Wait, WUT?

Every so often, when I am sitting alone with my phone (sad panda) and have some time to kill, I log into the anonymous internet: usually WUT and Secret.

After spending most of the last decade on services that need your actual identity, I’ve been curious about these services that allow you to leave your real names behind. I think the late 90s were the last time I personally sought out services where I was anonymous or pseudonymous. Ever since then, I’ve been bringing together my identity into one namespace (@naveen).

One of the immediate benefits in such services is that your words carry weight and legitimacy on their own. You don’t scan to see who posted it before deciding whether to start reading it. Twitter democratized things in the sense that I could post something in the same space (and potential audience) as someone else, but if he started with more followers or a bigger brand than me, you would pay attention to and retweet his post way more than mine (rich get richer). With these anonymous services, none of that matters – your words are the only thing that’s important and they carry themselves.

Sometimes, you can use these services just to have a public conversation of your thoughts. Perhaps these are like the things you mutter to yourself in an empty room when you know no one else is listening. It could be frustration; things you say out loud that you don’t even realize you are saying out loud; future conversation you’re rolling around in your head; &c. (Oh god, I can’t believe I just admitted that here like a crazy person, but come on, surely others do this too.) I find that the majority of posts on both services are of this nature: things that would otherwise probably have never been captured.

In the handful of times I’ve used Secret, I found I only posted things in order to maximize likes. That addictive dopamine behavior that I like so much on other social services had made its way here as well. It didn’t matter that no one would know on Secret that I was the author, but just knowing that whatever I posted was clever or funny (and other people thought so) got me to post even more things. Why do we create publicly anyway if not to be validated? I wonder if others think the same way. Further, I wonder if others post things just to be provocative and to get hearts. If so, the things you’re posting on Secret then don’t mean the same thing as an honest message, and in some ways takes away from the authenticity. (I’ve noticed incredibly funny people on Twitter tend to do this too: make up stories or anecdotes about someone they saw on the street but it just so happens not to be true. Perhaps it’s the standup comic way of telling a story.)

WUT doesn’t have that problem. Because no one can give you the same kind of feedback, beyond just responding to your message with another linearly, you can’t game the system for such events. Even if you post with the intention of getting a response, there’s no interface to show you and others watching “XX post of yours had NN hearts” (or whatever).

Sometimes, WUT turns into a weird game of telephone. This is especially true of this service over others in its class because there are no threads in WUT: no distinction between posts and comments. Someone will say something, and others will take it and turn it into some rhyme or repeated pattern.

I recently moved WUT up higher in the notifications drawer on iOS. It now sits immediately after Phone and Messages. I thought this was very curious as I’ve never consciously done this for any application ever (even ones I am coding up and testing). I thought about this for a while, and then realized I had to do this: WUT’s primary interface is not in the app, it’s in the Notifications drawer. I think that’s the first time I’ve ever had any app on my phone that used this view space in that way.

WUT messages remind me of early Twitter. In 2006 Twitter, we would post whatever and whenever, free of a filter. It was weird: even though all these posts were public and indexable by the internet, we posted as if only our forty-five followers were ever listening. As we’ve gotten older and more people are listening, we have all come to filter ourselves and to start “creating brands around our identity.”

In more than a few cases, WUT has also become early foursquare: “Sun’s out; in Washington square park. Who’s around?”

Anyway, those are some things I think of when I’m fooling around with these services.

Beyond these explorations, I don’t know what to make of these apps. What more can I do with them? How long will the messages be new and exciting and not the same old stuff over and over again? If it’s the same old, I’m likely to just stop using and I think I am getting close. They’re like games in that way: interesting only when they have your attention and, right now, they have my attention.