Facebook Developing App That Allows Anonymity

Hidden Identity
Hidden Identity

Facebook has long attempted to be the place where, above all else, you try to be yourself. Soon, Facebook will allow you to be yourself, but under a different name.

The company is working on a stand-alone mobile application that allows users to interact inside of it without having to use their real names, according to two people briefed on Facebook’s plans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the project.

The app, which is expected to be released in the coming weeks, reveals a different, experimental take on Facebook’s long-established approach to identity. Facebook has pushed its main site as a way to establish your online identity, and to map out the connections you have to other friends and family, both on and offline.

“It’s part of what made Facebook special in the first place,” Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer, said in a recent post that discussed issues of identity on the social network. “By differentiating the service from the rest of the internet where pseudonymity, anonymity, or often random names were the social norm.”

This is still the case on Facebook’s main site, which has more than a billion accounts. But the new app is proof that the company is willing to explore alternatives.

The project is being led by Josh Miller, a product manager at Facebook who joined the company when it acquired Branch, his start-up which focused on products that fostered small, online discussion groups. Mr. Miller and the rest of his team have been working on the product in its different forms for the last year, said the people briefed on the plans.

The point, according to these people, is to allow Facebook users to use multiple pseudonyms to openly discuss the different things they talk about on the Internet; topics of discussion which they may not be comfortable connecting to their real names.

A Facebook spokesman said the company does not comment on rumor or speculation. Mr. Miller did not respond to an email request for comment.

There are many unknowns as to how the new app will interact, if at all, with Facebook’s main site. It is unclear if the app will allow anonymous photo sharing, or how friend interactions and existing friend connections will work.

Anonymous online conversations have long been a feature of sites around the web. Reddit, a huge online community, lets all of its users sign up pseudonymously. Other message boards also allow users to use whatever name they want. Secret and Whisper, two start-ups that require no identifying names for users, have seen bursts of activity and user discussion particularly because real names are not required to use the services.

Facebook — and in particular, Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s chief executive — has recognized the utility of offering anonymity to users. This year, Mr. Zuckerberg said it would allow developers to incorporate an anonymous log in feature into third-party applications, which would let users try out different apps while limiting what information they handed over.

Recent events have highlighted Facebook’s struggles in dealing with identity issues on the network. After weeks of protest, Facebook said last week that it would allow members of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities to use names which they have adopted, but are not their legal ones, to identify themselves on the social network. In his Facebook post, Mr. Cox said the company would amend its real-name policy in the future, though was unclear as to how Facebook would handle it.

It is possible this new app will be useful into health community discussions, according to the people briefed on the new app. Reuters reported about that feature last week.

But the new app will likely be useful beyond health communities, these people said, and is more about different contexts in which not using one’s real name is beneficial.

It is unclear how Facebook will protect users from spammers or trolls who could exploit the new service. For the last decade, Facebook has used its real-name policy in part to prohibit abuse and pollution of its network from bad actors.

“The stories of mass impersonation, trolling, domestic abuse, and higher rates of bullying and intolerance are oftentimes the result of people hiding behind fake names, and it’s both terrifying and sad,” Mr. Cox said in his Facebook post last week.


13 Things Not to Do at a Networking Event, Ever

You’re probably not going to avoid awkward networking situations entirely, no matter how hard you try–at some point, you will get cornered by the one person in the room who just can’t resist making a sales pitch.


But what you can do is ensure that you aren’t the one making others cringe, and that you’re focusing whatever face time you do get on building real relationships. So before you grab that stack of business cards, read these 13 networking don’ts from members of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC):

1. Don’t go to networking events with friends.
Too often, people are intimidated by networking events, so they ask friends to come along. Then they spend the whole event talking to no one but the people they already know. I try to make a point to go to networking events by myself when I can. This forces me to branch out and meet new people, and I’ve made some really amazing connections this way.–Allie Siarto, Fare Oak

2. Don’t try to meet everyone in sight; curate connections instead.
I used to introduce myself to lots of people at networking events, gathering business cards so I could call them later. Then I realized that a brief conversation doesn’t really develop a relationship, and calling people you’ve only met briefly isn’t much different from cold calling them. Now, I make sure to spend good quality time with a few people rather than a little time with a lot of people.–Vladimir Gendelman, Company Folders, Inc.

3. Don’t forget to follow up.
Follow up with the people you connect with. Do something to maintain that connection. Add their contact information to your address book or add them on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter. Whatever it is, do something to keep that connection alive.–Lane Campbell, Syntress SCDT

4. Don’t waste time with sales-oriented people.
I’ve learned not to spend too much time networking with people who are solely concerned with selling me on something.–Matthew Moisan, Moisan Legal, P.C.

5. Don’t be a stalker.
I never practice stalker networking, which may be defined as endlessly pursuing contact with someone who has not responded to you. I follow the 3/6 rule of networking: Contact a new person (online, never by phone) three times in a period of six weeks. If you don’t hear back, move on to someone more receptive.–Alexandra Levit, Inspiration at Work

6. Don’t network.
Networking is completely useless. I would much prefer to get in the trenches with people. That’s not networking, that’s getting to know what people are made of through action and behavior, not cocktails and small talk. When I go to a conference, it’s because I want a seat at the table there. When I attend an event, it’s to learn and teach. I often take time to help people, but I never “network.”–Corey Blake, Round Table Companies

7. Don’t interrupt. Ever.
Think about all the times you’ve been interrupted. It’s not fun. Actively and patiently listening communicates that you respect the other person and are giving them the gift of your attention and presence. People can tell, and they appreciate it.–Andrew Thomas, SkyBell Technologies, Inc.

8. Don’t be intimidated.
Even the most awe-inspiring, powerful, and successful people are just that … people. You probably have a lot to learn from them, but there’s sure to be something that they can learn from you, too.–Bhavin Parikh, Magoosh Inc

9. Don’t be a card spammer.
It’s never a good idea to work a room by handing out your cards or to quickly toss your card to someone who’s not asked for it (it will likely get thrown away in that case). It’s important to build a rapport with someone before you take the step of offering a card or asking for a further action like a meeting.–Darrah Brustein, Network Under 40/Finance Whiz Kids

10. Don’t talk so much.
Don’t be overly enthusiastic to talk about yourself and your company. It’s almost always better to ask more questions than you’re answering.–Shane Adams, Sagacious Consultants

11. Don’t be subtle. Be explicit.
When a lot of people network, they’re afraid to step up and accomplish what they want to do or say. As somebody who’s sometimes on the other side of that, it’s annoying. When people are clear with me and tell me exactly what they want, I always want to help. When somebody’s trying to be subtle, it hurts my ability to provide whatever benefit they’re looking to achieve in the networking.–Dan Price, Gravity Payments

12. Don’t ask to “pick my brain.”

The problem with asking, “Can I pick your brain?” is that it’s extremely vague and frankly, it doesn’t sound all that appealing. If you’re going to make a request to someone for their time and look to build a long-term relationship, be specific about what you would like to discuss in your informational meeting, cocktail, or coffee. You’ll get a lot more people saying yes to your request.–Antonio Neves, THINQACTION

13. Don’t hound the speakers.

The speaker is getting a lot of attention, but many times the people who can and are most willing to help you are not on stage–they are sitting beside you. Don’t think the speaker is the only one who can change your life.–Mike Ambassador Bruny, Ambassador Bruny Dot Com

You can’t always avoid bad networkers, but you can certainly avoid being one.