A new mobile app called Banter wants to build an anonymous social network on mobile by carving out a niche for itself that falls somewhere in between mobile messaging apps, like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, and the more “confessional” apps like Secret and Whisper.
Instead, chats in Banter are designed to flow like real-world conversations do, without the fear that everything discussed will be permanently etched in stone, or associated with a user’s public identity. The public chats only remain live for 24 hours, says the company, then they disappear. And you can participate using just a pseudonym.
The service also has some elements that make it feel like old-school message boards, as chats take place in “rooms” which can be event-focused (e.g. a sports event you’re watching, the Oscars, etc.) location-focused (Austin – for SXSW attendees, a local bar, e.g.), topic-focused (a health issue, support groups, gaming, etc.), or any combination of these. In the rooms, users can share text, photos, URLs, videos, GIF’s emoji’s and more, to discuss the topic in real-time.
The company was founded by long-time serial entrepreneur, Andrew Busey, currently a Partner at Chaotic Moon, a mobile strategy and development firm for consumer brands, that’s worked with companies like Disney, Pizza Hut, Pinkberry, Marvel, Xbox, National Geographic, Taco Bell, Starbucks, Samsung, and many, many more.
Busey’s past experience also includes running product management for one the first web browsers, Mosaic, creating one of the first web-based chat solutions with iChat, and later founding and selling Challenge Games to Zynga.
He explains that he was motivated to build Banter because he felt that many of today’s mobile chat clients don’t encourage users to have “real” conversations.
Either you’re engaged in private communications, similar to SMS, with people you know, spilling secrets on confessional apps, or broadcasting messages via your more public persona on Twitter, where followers may be turned off when you suddenly veer into topics you don’t typically discuss. (Like say, when a tech reporter starts live-tweeting a football game. You know who you are.)
“One of my fundamental beliefs is that people have lots of interests, and not all those interests align with their real-life friends, or their existing online friends,” explains Busey.
“For example, I like to game…and my friends, outside of the gaming companies I’ve worked with, are not big gamers.” He says he wanted to maintain relationships with some of his fellow gamers, but doesn’t necessarily view them as friends who he would connect with on Facebook, in all cases. But Banter would allow for that.
With the app that’s launching now for iOS and Android, users will be able to browse and join rooms, as well as initiate more messaging-like private chats with other users. (These stick around longer – for 6 months). However, in the future, the service will support letting users pay a nominal fee (99 cents, likely) for things like establishing multiple profiles, or creating and administering their own private rooms, where they can control membership.
Given that chatters are anonymous, there’s the question of how Banter will deal with trolling behavior or spam. Busey says members can “block” others for now with just a click, but that’s it. While the company has other technology it could roll out if need be, their preference is to rely on user policing of bad behavior if they can, he adds.
Banter also competes with places where people have pseudo-anonymous conversations today on the web, like Reddit. But Busey says he thinks Banter could appeal to Reddit users who may view the app as an extension to, not a replacement of, a larger social network.
The Austin-based startup is a team of five full-time, but had development assistance and investment from some at Chaotic Moon. To date, the company has raised just over $800,000 from founders and other Austin-area angels.
The app is live on both iOS and Android, and is read-only on the web.