Don’t Tell Mom, But This Social Network Encourages Talking to Strangers

Deputy Mayor and Socialist party (PS) candidate for the municipal elections in Paris Anne Hidalgo adjusts her headphones before answering pupils' questions on March 26, 2014 at France Info radio station in Paris, as part of the school media week. Hidalgo will take part later today in a debate with her right-wing UMP party opponent Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet. AFP PHOTO / MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

A new social network attempts to move radio onto mobile, but there’s not been much traction. MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images

Back in 2007, a YouTuber I’ve followed for a long time named iJustine did a post about a new social network that grabbed me: Utterz.

Utterz is long gone. At the time, it could have done with better branding (it had a regrettable cow theme), but I liked its basic idea. Registered users could call into the site, record whatever they wanted and the recording would post as an audio file to your profile (which it matched up using caller ID). In order for anyone to actually click on it, though, you needed to log in from a desktop and put some kind of title on the post, though, so it wasn’t perfect.

I lived in Philadelphia at the time, and I often had thoughts I wanted to put down as I walked around the city. It wasn’t long, though, before people did less calling and more writing on the site. It was the sharing they seemed to like, not sharing audio.

I immediately thought of Utterz when Anchor launched last year. Anchor again tried to make audio social, this time by letting users record messages using their smart phone and then post them as “waves” to the Anchor app. We listed it as one of the eight best innovations in podcasting last year, even though at the time we made that post the community had turned into a ghost town.

On March 7, the site released a new version. Shortly thereafter, we went down to SXSW in Austin and decided to try out the app live on the scene.

Along the way, we met up with the CEO and co-founder, Michael Mignano, at an afternoon party sponsored by the company. “Our original mission for Anchor was to democratize audio and basically invent a new form of radio,” he told the Observer.

The most notable shift from the first version to now is how replies work. In the former version, a person could post something and then others could reply. The original poster could reply to replies and so on. A casual listener could just listen straight through the whole conversation.

“I think the flaw with replies in 1.0, being completely unmoderated, it allowed the conversation to devolve pretty quickly,” Mignano said. A listener would hear a bunch of people just chiming in to say they agreed with something without adding much more substance. 

In this new version, listeners can call into someone’s channel and say whatever they want, but it’s up to the owner of that feed to decide if his or her listeners hear it. I was listening to Anchor last night and heard two call-ins on the opposite side of a prior post on the station. The host picked what he thought were the best two, which was good. On the other hand, the post they were responding to had disappeared already, so I didn’t have any of the context.

Anchor also, noticeably, is attempting to mimic Snapchat and Facebook’s Instagram by making a user’s feed temporary. Every post you add to your station only lasts for 24 hours, so if you aren’t constantly adding more, people who stop by your station will find it empty. Unlike those two services, however, these posts are available to everyone on Anchor.

“From the day we launched to the day we launched 2.0, we saw roughly 40 percent of our network creating audio,” Mignano told us.

One special guest at Anchor’s SXSW party? A snapbot, the dispenser of Snapchat’s glasses. Brady Dale for Observer

It’s worth noting though that both Snapchat and Instagram had huge user bases before they added this disappearing timeline feature. No one I know is a regular Anchor user, so I found that this meant that basically no more than one or two people listened to anything that I posted before the recordings disappeared forever.

Anchor has also tried to add new features, like letting people import music into their station or creating transitions. These additions don’t append to your recording, though. They show up as a new entry on your recording. So this meant I’d have an entry like, “The future of media at SXSW” followed by “Beans.”

I made more entries than ever got logged in Anchor, but those are lost forever because the post never went through and the app doesn’t save it unless it goes live. A lot of times they would succeed when I tried to post a second time, but under the duress of the festival, I just didn’t have time to double check.

I got a quick look at Anchor on iPhone from another user, and it did look like a better user experience, but I think the jury is still out on whether or not a new social network based on audio can fly. Social audio might be a great new feature on an existing network like Reddit or Twitter.

Imagine, for example, if Reddit just automatically made a page for every new podcast that came out, so that every redditor knew they always had a place to record or write responses to any episode they had a thought about? That could be a fun space in which to experiment with social audio.

Anchor, as it stands, can’t decide if it wants to be a community of less produced podcasts locked inside a walled garden or a riff on Snapchat for the camera shy.

Don’t Tell Mom, But This Social Network Encourages Talking to Strangers