Down at the Occupy Wall Street protest in Zuccott Park a few blocks from Wall Street, Hazem Sayed is a popular man. Betabeat made Mr. Sayed’s acquaintance in front of a projection of messages posted via the Vibe app, a Twitter-esque platform that tags every message with a location but no other identifying information, and our conversation was repeatedly interrupted with queries about the Vibes being projected onto a screen that had been draped over the side of a halal cart. “Can I write something?” “Who wrote that?” The police had repeatedly torn down the screen when it was hoisted up on its own stand because they said it obstructed their view of the protest. “But tonight they seem cool,” Mr. Sayed said.
Mr. Sayed’s background is in civil engineering and architecture–he built Vibe in May, and its predecessor AskLocal in December, as a completely open forum for people to connect and post thoughts, items for sale, events, and the like. It’s a pro-privacy alternative to the data mining social networks that have become so popular in recent years. “I’m not on Twitter, not on Facebook, not on LinkedIn,” he said. “I like anonymity, which is why I wrote this thing.”
Mr. Sayed designed the app and hired a development shop to take care of the execution. The two apps only require a user’s location and Mr. Sayed doesn’t store IP addresses or require registration from users, so although the messages aren’t encrypted there is still a high level of privacy preserved. The apps must be used from a mobile device.
Mr. Sayed lives in New York but he’s traversed the country showcasing Vibe, which he describes as a “point and shoot” version of the more robust AskLocal, an app that allows for posting messages pinned to any location and deciding the radius for who can respond, as well as whether the responses will be public or private. Messages on Vibe are cross-posted to AskLocal. So someone in the back of an auditorium could pose an anonymous question to a speaker or the audience–someone across the world could also place a question about the protest in Zuccotti Park and require responders to be located in the park and even make their replies only privately visible.
From AskLocal’s description:
Imagine using this to announce a block party that only people in your block can see, or posting a question on a college campus that only campus people can reply to.
Imagine using this to sell something locally or across the country…
Imagine the possibilities… Buy/sell, job postings, announcements, questions, polls, etc.
The main difference between AskLocal and Vibe, as far as we could tell, is that Vibe is stripped down–you don’t have the option to make your replies private, for example–and more immediate, better for chatting with strangers.
Mr. Sayed was traveling in California when he saw Vibes being posted from the protest–the first he’d heard of the ragtag demonstration being staged in the Financial District. He’d been taking Vibe on a roadshow, setting up projections at MIT and in Happy Donuts, brought it to TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco and demonstrated it at Stanford. A few hundred messages are posted via the app today. “It wasn’t political in the beginning,” he said, although the possibilities for civic resistance were self-evident. He showed Betabeat a line of Vibes down Market Street in San Francisco which were posted after the incident of a police beating in a BART station.
Intrigued, Mr. Sayed headed down to the protest after he got back to New York and has made something of a name for himself there. He introduces himself as “White Hat”–a reference to white-hat hackers as well as to the white cap he wears. He never found out who posted the first Vibes from Occupy Wall Street.