At SXSW, techies dish anonymously with GhostPost

Thousands of attendees at the show are chatting with the just-launched app.

Could anonymous chat be the next big thing? At this year's South by Southwest Interactive, the place that helped put Twitter and FourSquare on the map, a fledgling app for anonymous chatting is gaining some traction.

GhostPost is giving attendees a no holds barred forum to say just about anything about what's happening at the Austin, Texas, conference.

Literally, anything.

"So, why can't they find venues big enough for almost any session?" one person posted Saturday afternoon just as the keynote address by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk was wrapping up. Because the main hall designated for the event was filled to capacity, several smaller spillover rooms were made available for the address, but even those rooms were hard to get into.

A lot of the chat during the day was for more mundane purposes.

Im hungry, one person said Saturday morning in the apps SXSW chat room.

Go eat some pulled pork bbq nom nom nom, came the response.

With posts coming in once every 20 minutes or so, the daytime chat wasn't exactly riveting.

But GhostPost was on fire Friday night -- the opening day of SXSW Interactive -- as thousands of conference attendees descended on downtown Austins bar and club scene.

During that time the app functioned more as a community, as people used it to tell others where the hottest parties were, or weren't, in no uncertain terms. Posts were appearing literally by the second.

And the same thing appeared to be happening as Saturday night began.

"TechCocktail event is open bar, at the Stage on 6th," wrote one tipster. "say you're pitching as part of TreeSwing or any company pitching here to get in."

The app, which was built in just three days by a team of nine as part of SXSW's StartupBus competition, is the latest social networking service to riff on a concept that has been made popular by other anonymous messaging apps such as SnapChat for photos.

The idea behind the service is to inspire people to be more creative by saying what they think with no strings attached. "Our online digital personas hold us back from saying what we really want to say," said Justin Johnson, a member of the app's development team who handles strategy and marketing.

GhostPost is simple to use. A person goes to ghostpost.io on a desktop or mobile browser, and then is automatically dropped into the service's SXSW chat room. The person is given a randomly generated avatar handle, which feature whimsical names such CrappySamurai, WorstWeasel or SweetestHipster, and then can immediately begin posting to the site. There is no registration or log-in page.

While at the moment SXSW is the default chat room at ghostpost.io/sxsw, users can also create their own rooms by entering whatever words they want instead of SXSW.

About 3,500 people are currently using the app, which officially launched Wednesday. The average user spends about 3.5 minutes on the site, Johnson said, who in his day job is cofounder at San Francisco-based developer community Late Labs.

The team is already working to add more features to GhostPost -- at the moment the interface is pretty bare bones -- and scaling it up. On Sunday for instance a location feature will be rolled out to give users a way to either tag where they are or search for chat rooms based on location.

Trending topics, similar to the way Twitter works, will also be incorporated next week, and the developers are also planning to push out dedicated Android and iOS apps for the service within the next month or so. The developers envision a total addressable market of 680 million people.

But at this point the extent to which GhostPost will actually foster creativity is hard to say.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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Zach Miners

IDG News Service
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