Rumr Adds Real Identity And Picture Messaging To Its Anonymish Group Chats

Google Ventures-backed Rumr, an anonymish group messaging app which launched in the US. back in March, has done its first major update.

Curiously enough it’s adding a component of real identity into its quasi-anonymous messaging mix by letting users switch between their chats being masked or unmasked. It’s also adding picture messaging, because, you know, all forms of messaging are multimedia now.

Rumr founder and CEO James Jerlecki describes the new version of the app as the “real” v1. It’s also being released more widely, available in “most” countries on the App Store and Google Play, rather than the limited U.S. iOS and Android launch of late March.

As it was initially unveiled, the app allowed groups of friends to anonymously message each other with different participants in the conversation identified only by their chats being badged a consistent colour, rather than stamped with their name. The idea being to enable group chatting among friends without having to bother about the specifics of who said what exactly. Encouraging free flowing conversation/shiggles is Rumr’s stated aim.

Now, Rumr is mixing things up further by adding an option allowing users to switch between being anonymous in the group chat — or posting something under their real identity. Holy app identity issues batman!

This is one of the first messaging experiences to offer a mix of anonymity and real-identity within the same chat

What exactly is the point of letting users mask or unmask themselves at will? Well, anonymity is certainly having a moment right now — from the likes of Whisper, which lets you post secrets to out-and-out strangers, or Secret, which lets you whisper secrets to friends/friends of friends — the bottom line is startups are hard at work playing with anonymity/anonymish things to see which recipe sticks best.

And Rumr is clearly doing the same. After two months in the wild it’s not yet breaking out any usage stats but only has a three-star rating on Google Play, and an installation bracket of just 10,000 to 50,000. (For comparative purposes, Snapchat’s Google Play listing put it at 50,000,000 – 100,000,000 installs.) So it’s clearly got a ways to go to get more sticky.

Isn’t mixing identity and anonymity in this way at risk of making an app that’s too complex? Simplicity is generally the way to go on mobile — so Rumr is going against the grain pretty early here.

“I think certainly there is a risk,” concedes Jerlecki when I put the complexity point to him. But he argues that a smooth implementation of the masking/unmasking process within the app gets around any potential issues. All chats default to anonymous, with the user tapping to switch to posting under their real name if they so desire.

“It’s only one tap to bring up the identity chooser within a chat and you don’t ever have to post with your real-identity if you don’t want to,” he says, adding: “This is one of the first messaging experiences to offer a mix of anonymity and real-identity within the same chat and we think it’s incredibly compelling.”

“Real-identity messaging has always been something planned for rumr, which is why Facebook and Twitter verification have always been very prominent at registration,” he adds. “We’ve always believed the value is in letting you be who you want to be, anonymous or not, which is why we planned for and added real-identity messaging.”

For added stickiness, Rumr has also now added picture messaging. This fills a big obvious hole in the messaging app’s functionality, being as pictures are the standard currency of mobile these days. Add to that, mix anonymity, real identity and photos of stuff, and maybe, just maybe you have something that’s going to rock teenagers’ world. Rumr

There are of course potential issues if you’re mixing quasi-anonymity and pictures, though. And such ‘user safety’ considerations were why pictures were left out of the earlier v1 release of the app in the first place. But Jerlecki reckons the startup is ready to handle the risks now — having created a visual tool so it can see what’s being sent and dive in to remove stuff if necessary.

He also claims Rumr hasn’t had to deal with much malicious behaviour, thus far, being as it’s designed for sharing “between a core set of your friends”.

“We haven’t had to outright ban many chats and the percentage is very small in relation to the total number of chats. We’ve removed a few users from the platform, but for the most part we haven’t had a major issue with having to completely delete or ban chats,” he tells TechCrunch.

Of course limited malicious behaviour may just be a measure of limited app traction at this early stage. Rumr is not breaking out usage stats as yet, but is clearly focusing on attempts to drive messaging volume. Jerlecki says the average user is sending 8 to 10 messages per day, which sounds pretty low for a messaging app — but he argues that it’s “inline with expectations” given the lack of picture messaging up to now.

So, given it’s just now added picture messaging — and done a proper global launch — Rumr is going to need to start moving the usage needle soon to continue inspiring its investors.

“As we begin to add additional features to the app we expect to see this [messages per day] number rise. In a few cases, we’ve had certain groups where users are sending 30+ messages a day, so continuing to implement features that drive messaging traffic is our main focus,” he adds.