Earlier this year, Josh Miller’s conversation startup Branch was acquired by Facebook for about $US15 million.
Now Miller has been sent to London to work on Facebook’s latest Creative Labs application. The mobile application could resemble popular apps Secret and Whisper in that it will let Facebook users peruse and post content to the app anonymously.
“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,” The New York Times’ Mike Isaac reports. “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.”
Over the summer, Miller’s team was working on a different conversation product for Facebook. A source who met with the Branch team post-acquisition describes it as a “Facebook conversations product that organised users around topics, like forums.”
“They were taking a vertical, like parenting or photography, and trying to get people excited about them in discussion boards with community leaders — like old-school internet forums as opposed to community-driven pages,” this person said.
That product was more of a desktop feature than a standalone app, this person said. It’s unclear if that product pivoted into the Creative Labs app Miller’s team is working on now, or if this is a new app altogether. Miller declined to elaborate and an email sent to him today went unanswered.
Facebook has signaled that it’s open to launching anonymous-based products. In January, Bloomberg Businessweek’s Brad Stone interviewed Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg indicated then that an anonymous product could be on the horizon. Stone wrote:
One thing about some of the new apps that will come as a shock to anyone familiar with Facebook: Users will be able to log in anonymously. That’s a big change for Zuckerberg, who once told David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect, that “having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”
Former Facebook employees say identity and anonymity have always been topics of heated debate in the company.
Zuckerberg justified his change of heart to Stone then: “I don’t know if the balance has swung too far, but I definitely think we’re at the point where we don’t need to keep on only doing real identity things. If you’re always under the pressure of real identity, I think that is somewhat of a burden.”
Facebook has a tendency to launch copy-cat apps that seem inspired by new, it entrepreneurs. Secret, Whisper and Yik Yak have made anonymous-only apps and they have been valued at a few hundred million dollars, combined. Another Creative Labs app, Slingshot, seemed identical to popular chat application, TapTalk. Last year Facebook launched Poke, an exact replica of Snapchat.
So far, no mobile app that Facebook has released, with the exception of Messenger, seems to have gained traction.
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