Shout out to all the quiet, shy and introverted kids out there, this one’s just for you. As an introvert, meeting new people in the real world, meaning outside college, sucks sometimes- a lot of people are weird, annoying, or assholes (if you live in L.A.). It’s not like you can use Facebook to meet new people without being weird yourself either. Luckily now there’s Anomo, the first social network of it’s kind that helps you meet new people like you without the awkwardness or the need for rehearsed pick-up lines. You aren’t even meeting them as yourself, at least not at first.
You see, Anomo, the brain child of James Sun and Ben Liu, lets users wear a “mask” by giving them avatars to start out with. While you meet people through neat icebreaker games, you can choose what you want to share with who, giving you an unprecedented amount of privacy for a social network while meeting real friends, not just a forgettable person you briefly met who wants to add you. With a neat system that learns about what kind of people you like to meet, the fast growing Anomo may just give Facebook a run for its money. We had the awesome opportunity to catch up with James and Ben of Anomo over email where they tell us more about their “smart” social network, what they think about the end of Facebook, and how Anomo helped save someone’s life.
Tell us about where the idea for Anomo came from.
James: “Both Ben Liu and I are natural born introverts, but we learned the importance of being more extroverted in life. In high school, both of us were very math-oriented, but we also enjoyed playing sports. We were a bit of an aberration, and it was hard to meet new friends that shared both interests. Ben went to Princeton University and I went to the University of Washington. In college we both realized how difficult it was to meet friends, dates and business connections. After college, we realized it’s even more difficult to meet new people, but we realized the importance of who you know. We wanted to solve this problem by making it easy and safe to meet new people based on real content and common interests instead of just a photo on a profile page.”
What was the experience like launching Anomo?
“We created the company in 2012 and launched in June 2013. Both of us are introverted by nature, so we understand how to build the best product that helps introverts socialize easily. Social anxiety is the third largest psychological problem in the United States today affecting over 15 million Americans every year. Even though a person may not be clinically diagnosed with social anxiety, almost every person in this world, even extroverts, has moments in life where they felt anxious or fearful about meeting someone new. We are marketing through testimonials and word of mouth. There are enough people in the world who want a different experience than Facebook and typical copycat models. We are the first to use a “masked profile” to help ease and facilitate social interactions.”
Can you tell us more about the ‘mask’ concept of Anomo and how it connects users that are virtually strangers?
“Anomo helps individuals share content and meet people through a masked profile in order to keep the content/conversations very real, authentic and safe. Oscar Wilde said, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” The anonymous avatar protects personally identifiable information so users can be free to share whatever they want. As they get comfortable with someone, they decide when to reveal private information, whether it be a name, picture, job, etc., to that specific individual only. Users control 100% of their privacy in a one-to-one format. Anomo is successfully targeting a demographic that Facebook has lost.”
What are your thoughts on the decline of Facebook’s popularity amongst the teen demographic?
“Traditional social networks, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+, are static networks that focus on capturing existing and past relationships. Studies have shown that while the average number of friends in a Facebook network is 120, as little as four of those connections are active relationships. The reality is that most of what people share or want to share socially simply aren’t applicable, interesting or appropriate for the vast majority of their “generic” social network. Their social network consists of an immensely wide range of relationships, ranging from close friends and family, to long-lost classmates and one-time acquaintances – from relatives and peers at church to drinking buddies and soccer teammates. A comment applicable to one group would be inappropriate or uninteresting to the 30 other social groups the person belongs to. In the end, what they end up posting is shallow, generic and unfulfilling. The Anomo social network, by contrast, is a dynamic, ever-morphing “social discovery” network connecting people based on common interests, experiences and location. Anomo helps users find future social connections, whereas Facebook helps users stay in touch with existing friends. Facebook is a social graph of one’s past, and Anomo is the social graph for their future. The whole intent and experience on Anomo is about meeting and interacting with new people. Anomo allows individuals to have a social experience without the unintended consequences of posting to all their Facebook friends. For example, someone may be at a nightclub in Las Vegas and want to socialize with others that are there, but they don’t want to necessarily post it on Facebook where the whole world will see it. Anomo allows them to capture this dynamic social network with others while protecting their identity to the rest of the world. The younger teen market completely understands the value of protecting their identity. They don’t necessarily want to be part of a network where their parents, teachers, etc., can see their posts. They want to express their individuality without social consequences. This makes Anomo a great place for them to spend their social networking time.”
We read about a pretty inspiring story of support on Anomo. Can you tell us about it?
“Anomo’s proudest moment came when one user wrote on the main message board that he was contemplating suicide. Immediately, the post received 600 replies, all encouraging the young man to rethink his decision. Overwhelmed by the response, the troubled teen declared he changed his mind and wanted to live.”
Do you have any advice to give to other young and aspiring entrepreneurs from your experience?
“Dream big and build something unique and different. Don’t be another Twitter or Facebook. Bring something that’s conceptually disruptive to the market. If you don’t get a reaction either way, then it’s not different enough. Even if everyone says the idea is crazy or strange, at least it shows you are thinking differently!”
Do you have any plans to grow Anomo into something bigger or start a similar project to reach out and help people?
“Anomo is getting increasingly intelligent about who users want to meet or interact with. Based on posts, icebreaker games and digital interactions, Anomo will help users find people who are even more compatible. We are continuing to learn and build algorithms that are based on “behavioral data” rather than theories. For example, who is to say that you’ll be compatible with someone just because both of you are Democrats. Rather, you could tend to have better and more engaging conversations with people who are more conservative. This type of interaction is captured on Anomo as we get smarter about who our users might want to meet in the future.”
Check out Anomo for yourself here. Don’t be shy =)