Bindu Reddy says she wasn’t looking to create the next big thing with her app Candid, which allows users to post messages anonymously. She already runs a large social-media marketing company called MyLikes, and has managed apps and services for Google, among others.
So why do it then? According to Reddy, her desire to start what became Candid gradually coalesced over the past year or so as she became less and less enamored with Twitter (TWTR), Facebook (FB), and other social apps. It also happened as she noticed many of her friends and colleagues were also moving away from such networks for similar reasons.
“Over the last year or two, there has been this kind of repulsion to most social media, especially Facebook and Twitter,” Reddy tells Fortune. “And the reason is that it’s hard to say anything opinionated or even remotely controversial without facing a huge backlash. You can post your puppy photos or whatever, but the minute you post something about politics, it becomes a huge problem.”
But doesn’t having a completely anonymous app encourage the worst possible behavior: trolling and spam and abuse of all kinds? Reddy admits that it does. More than 40% of what gets posted on Candid—and at times as much as 70%—is removed for those reasons, she says.
In that sense, what the company is struggling with is very similar to what Twitter and Reddit have been trying to get a handle on since they were created. Namely, how do you have a platform that encourages free and even controversial speech without having it turn into a den of abuse? The anonymous app Secret shut down in part because it couldn’t find a way to solve that problem.
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However, Reddy says that despite the large volume of messages the service has to take down, she still believes in the value of anonymous comments. Why? Because she sees it every day, she says.
“I definitely think it’s possible to create a place where people can have thoughtful discussions anonymously,” says the Candid founder. “I see examples of that every day.”
In particular, Reddy said she has seen multiple cases of people posting messages about having problems in their personal lives and then getting thoughtful, helpful responses from a host of complete strangers. In many cases, these problems are ones that they would likely feel uncomfortable discussing in public.
“If you don’t have identity associated, then you can have much more frank discussions,” says Reddy. “So if I say I’m going to get divorced, on Facebook that might seem really awkward and no one would respond, because everyone’s politically correct. But on Candid, I would get dozens of people responding.”
Anonymity allows people to “get a sense of connection on a topic right away—it breaks down barriers,” Reddy says. “People don’t know who I am, so they’re not judging me—saying ‘Here’s this brown girl saying this,’ or ‘Here’s this old white guy.’ Instead, people connect around the idea.”
Reddy says that she has looked at what Reddit has been through with abuse in user-moderated forums, which it has been trying to crack down on, and she stipulated there is a key difference between how Reddit handles anonymity and how Candid handles it.
“The big problem I’ve seen is that Reddit and other communities have anonymity, but they have a persistent identity,” Reddy explains. “So you can get these cliques that form and gang up on someone because of what they’ve posted in the past, or super-users become all powerful because of their following, etc. But we don’t have persistent identity on Candid. You get a new identity for every post.”
The difficult part, Reddy admits, is that providing someone with a different auto-generated identity each time they comment helps cut down on some bad behavior, but it also makes it difficult to add the kinds of positive features that other large, online communities have been able to foster.
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“One thing we can do is we can see when two people are interacting more than they are with other people,” Reddy stresses. “Others might not see that, but we can. So maybe in the future we will show more posts from those kinds of people to each other, and do some curation around that.” Candid also tries to provide feedback to users by giving them badges that only they can see, such as “All Star” or “Hater.”
Reddy acknowledges that the company is still relatively small, and that getting a huge, Snapchat-style user base is not what she has in mind. (Although she highlights Candid is in the top 100 on both the Apple Store and the Google Play store.) Instead, Reddy posits she is hoping to spark some intelligent discussion around difficult topics. The total message base is currently in the 100,000 range.
Building on her experience at Google, Reddy says even before the company launched, they built a lot of machine-learning models to identify troublesome posts as well as tools to do sentiment and contextual analysis. The company also has a 10-person team in India working around the clock, deciding whether to take specific posts down. Only the worst hate speech or threats get taken down, she notes.
Despite all the work that his kind of moderation takes, Reddy says she is still convinced that Candid can generate enough value for users to keep them coming back.
“I think people can just be much more honest and authentic on an anonymous service, and some of the best conversations I’ve seen on Candid have shown this,” Reddy says. “Yes, there’s a lot of bad behavior, but there’s also much more potential for real human connection. In real life, maybe people see a Muslim guy and they have these preconceptions. But on Candid, there’s none of that. That’s what keeps people coming back.”