Shortwave Shows Off Anonymous Chat As Another Consumer Use Case For iBeacons

Apple’s iBeacons are being trialled and demoed in retail settings all over the place, but they’re slowly becoming more interesting to average users, too. A new app called Shortwave offers up an everyday use case for iBeacon tech that could prove either terrifying or exciting, depending on your perspective; the software uses iBeacon protocols to turn your iPhone into a location-based anonymous messenger, letting you talk to anyone else using the app within a 70-foot radius.

The app uses simple one-color icons to identify users, the same way that Secret does with poster and commenter identities within its anonymous app. The localized aspect of the software is the interesting wrinkle, and the one with the most potential for both spontaneous positive outcomes and trouble. Imagine it being used in a schoolyard setting, for instance; anonymous bullying made both local and digital could be a powerful thing.

Already, Secret and Whisper are criticized for their potential for misuse in bullying scenarios. Shortwave is bound to be up to that kind of scrutiny as well. But it could also really thrive as a companion service for those and for other anonymous services, especially when people are looking not only for privacy but also for contextually specific conversations. And Shortwave founder Alonso Holmes is conscious of the risks inherent in the app.

“Our goal was to build something useful for concerts, conferences, and the like – but if we’ve learned anything from comments on the web, it’s that some people feel empowered by anonymity and use it for evil,” he explained in an email conversation. “We’re kind of in unproven territory here – our hope is that being near the people you’re talking to will keep the conversation civil. If you’re in the same room as someone and you happen to see a flash of color on their phone, you know who that person is on Shortwave. So we’ve built-in a few subtle features to push people in the direction of civility, but ultimately it’s up to the users.”

Holmes says the app is still “very much an experiment,” and adds that they’ll introduce features to supplement privacy and user protection if there are issues, including a possible downvote-style community-based moderation mechanism similar to that built into Reddit.

The app is free in iTunes right now, but of course you’ll need one or more people using it in your immediate vicinity for it to be useful. Also, you’ll need to have Bluetooth enabled. But if you satisfy both of those conditions, it’s a well designed little piece of software. Also, this is not to be confused with the app of the same name for discussing videos, or the anonymous location-based sharing app called Shrtwv, that was previously called “Shortwave.” That last sentence looks like a parody, but it isn’t, and these apps are actually all different; that’s the world we live in.