Psst! The Secret List of Anonymous Social Networks

The Covert World of Whisper, Secret, Wut, and Yik Yak

Anonymous social networking sites are media darlings with hundreds of articles written about mobile apps with names like Whisper, Secret, Yik Yak, and Confide. These services differ from first-generation social networks like Facebook in that they don't revolve around the user's real identity; many encourage users to stay anonymous or adopt pseudonyms.

These are mostly mobile services that allow people to send messages from their smartphones to others who use the same apps--or to the whole world, in some cases. Some also make the messages disappear quickly, a la SnapChat.

People describe these apps as anonymous and private because they purportedly let people share information without overtly identifying themselves. But users beware: When was anyone ever really anonymous on a mobile phone? Talk about a unique identifier!

Most supposedly private social networking services are far from private, of course. The not-so-secret truth about them is they aren't very secret at all. They may not be open billboards to the world, like blogs and tweets, but most of the content they share is traceable or recordable in some fashion.

With that disclaimer out of the way, it's nonetheless fascinating to see all the experimentation under way to develop new forms of social networking that might take information-sharing into the post-Facebook, post-Twitter, and even post-Pinterest era.

The idea of online communities where people can adopt aliases and virtual identities is as old as the Internet  but is taking new twists and shapes as it enters the smartphone era. Many of the newer mobile apps seem designed to get people to confess their darkest or innermost emotions and thoughts, rather than post thoughtful comments anonymously. Of course, plenty of Internet forums already exist that allow anonymous rants, such as 4chan and reddit. But those were not designed as mobile-first apps and were not meant as confessionals, either.

Here's a list of anonymous social networking sites and apps, with a few pseudo "private" networks thrown in (services that attempt to make messages disappear):

Whisper App
People share secrets anonymously on Whisper's main news feed. Screenshot/Whisper

This was one of the first so-called anonymous mobile apps, launched in 2012. It’s designed for publicly sharing secrets, a kind of public confessional booth. Users share their thoughts anonymously in the form of an image and a sentence or two of text. There is no concept of identity on this platform at all—people share their thoughts without attaching a pseudonym or name. Which makes this app more anonymous than some of the others. Whisper is available on both the iPhone and Android platforms. More »

Yik Yak app
Yik Yak app. Screenshot

This location-based messaging service was launched by Furman University students in December 2013. It’s designed for college students interested in communicating with the large number of other students who are in their relatively small geographic area. Like some other anonymous social networking services, Yik Yak has drawn a lot of criticism because some students have used it to bully their classmates. More »

Wut mobile app
Wut mobile app. Screenshot

Wut’s self-described “semi-anonymous chat” app launched in January 2014 for the iPhone, with promises of an Android version soon. It’s a cross between Snapchat and Facebook, with a big twist. What’s different is that people connect with their friends on Wut, and can only send messages to those friends, but no one gets informed which friend sent which message. So people wind up playing a guessing game as to who created what content. Messages are deleted after a while, making it a bit like Snapchat. More »

Popcorn messaging app
Popcorn messaging app. Screenshot

This iPhone app also offers a pseudo-private messaging service, allowing those who have it installed to chat with other users who happen to be within a one-mile radius. It’ s a very simple chat room, reminiscent of the days when America Online hosted real-time chats and people talked anonymously in a ton of different chat rooms on AOL. More »

Rumr mobile app
Rumr mobile app. Screenshot

Rumr's tag line is “anonymous messaging with people you know." Launched in March 2014, it lets groups of friends create private chat rooms and anonymizes them when they enter, so they know they’re in there with pals but don’t know which one is saying what. It’s a chat room version of Wut. “It's like having a conversation with the lights off,” Rumr says on its download page. More »