Rumr’s creepy panda mascot. It’s got nothing on the Secret fox.
Anonymous online communication has broken free from the Internet’s seedy underbelly and gone mainstream. As a result, a new genre of oversharing social apps, including Whisper and Secret, has cropped up in the past year. The latest to join the club is Rumr.
Released Tuesday on Android and iOS, Rumr is a free app that allows friends to meet in a mobile chatroom and have a conversation without people knowing who’s saying what. Everyone knows who’s in the chatroom, but nobody has to take responsibility for what he’s saying. So the more friends you add to a chat, the more anonymous it becomes. Participants are differentiated by colors, but every time someone new joins, everyone gets a new color. It’s like squishing into a room with some friends, turning off the lights, and speaking into the darkness.
Just like other anonymous apps out there, Rumr’s anonymity is supposed to free us from the chains of our carefully crafted online identities and encourage us to speak more freely (read: more viciously). But as the app’s creator James Jerlecki says, keeping strangers out of a conversation automatically makes it less malicious.
“By introducing the constraint of keeping these chats between your friends, the environment becomes inherently safer,” Jerlecki wrote in his inaugural Medium manifesto.
I can very well imagine some scenarios in which this tool could be used for good: a quick litmus test for what’s socially acceptable behavior, an amicable airing of grievances among a friend group, a chance to check whether a bodily growth is normal.
In fact, during the app’s beta trial, Jerlecki even asked his sister to test Rumr out with a group of teens she works with, allowing them to say things they’d otherwise feel uncomfortable speaking about in person.
But it’s much easier to imagine all the bad stuff: a stream of insults, interventions gone awry, sexual harassment, or the potential for someone to accidentally “out” himself based on how he types or what he says. After all, I’m assuming that teens, not undercover detectives, will be most drawn to Rumr.
Ultimately, it’s a shaky balance between pure anonymity (which feels very real on apps like Whisper) and intensely personal conversation. In some ways, Rumr is the equivalent of that classic scenario where a teenage girl calls a boy to ask if he likes her friend while the friend is silently listening on the other line. The information revealed to the eavesdropper isn’t necessarily confidential; it’s just too embarrassing to talk about face to face.
Interested? Here’s a quick run-through of how to use it.
Rumr will ask whether you want to receive push notifications. Since it’s a form of chat, I’d opt to do it. There’s no other way you’ll know when you’ve been invited to a chatroom.
Then you’ll be asked to sign up via Facebook, Twitter, or your own email. As always, if you opt for one of the first two, you’ll have to approve the app’s access to some of your personal information.
You’ll still have to provide some basic info: your full name, date of birth, and an email.
You’ll be asked to come up with your own Rumr username, for which I’ve employed my vast knowledge of Arrested Development characters.
During this process, you’ll also have to grant Rumr access to your contacts. You’ll need to do that, since the app is pretty useless unless you can actually message the people you’re intimately in touch with.
Finally, you’ll need to enter your phone number, which the app will ask you to verify by sending a text.
OK, we’re in. Start by scrolling through your contact list and decide with whom you’d like to chat. Contacts will be divided into two groups: people who already use the app and non-adopters. Whenever you select a non-adopter to join a group, she receives a text message with a link to Rumr’s download page in either the Google Play store or the App Store, depending on her operating system.
The names you select will show up in purple at the very top of the screen. When you’ve picked everyone you want to include, tap the paper airplane icon in the upper-right corner.
You’ll then be brought to the room you started. At the top of the screen, it’ll show who has joined. As you can see, each person is designated a different chat bubble color.
At any time, you can click the downward-facing arrow next to the names up top to see who’s in the room and/or invite more people.
Here you can see the members of the group and their screen names.
From there you can also tap the options box, which allows you to leave the chat or to give it a new name.
Those are the basics! Now go ahead: Try it out and see what comes from this vaguely anonymous social experiment. If it ends in tears, it’s not on me.