Vibe, the anonymous microblogging service used during the Occupy Wall Street protests in the fall, is back. The app has a new release for iPhone and, later today, Android as well. The releases are timed to the citywide Occupy Wall Street protests planned for tomorrow.
Vibe works like Twitter, but users don’t have to register their names. Instead, a message is pinned to a specific location and shown only to users within the designated radius. Vibe also allows users to set an expiration date on their messages. Activists can use the service to coordinate in real-time, creator Hazem Sayed told Betabeat, and recently it’s been discovered by users in the Middle East.
The new features should make Vibe even more appealing to protesters. “The main thing that’s been added is this idea of a double hashtag,” Mr. Sayed said. “Unlike the standard hashtag, where you put it in and it’s vis to everyone, a double hashtag makes that thread invisible. So if you do ##newyorkcity, it doesn’t show up in the public stream. The only way to find it is to search for it explicitly.”
App for That
When we first told you about Vibe, a New York-based pseudonymous mobile messaging app, last September, Occupy Wall Street was in full swing. In fact, Vibe app creator Hazem Sayed earned the nickname “White Hat” for walking around Zuccotti Park passing out flyers for his protester-friendly service. There was even an iPad hooked up to a projector showing hashtagged messages about #OWS.
Well, as TechCrunch reported yesterday, we weren’t the only ones to take note. Betaworks quietly acquired Vibe back in December. According to the blog, the deal was “likely in the low six figures, with Betaworks now owning a majority of Vibe.” In a post on the Betaworks Tumblr this morning, CEO John Borthwick wrote, “There’s no better feeling than falling in love,” noting that Mr. Sayed will stay on to run the company.
App for That
Down at the Occupy Wall Street protest in Zuccott Park a few blocks from Wall Street, Hazem Sayed is a popular man. Betabeat made Mr. Sayed’s acquaintance in front of a projection of messages posted via the Vibe app, a Twitter-esque platform that tags every message with a location but no other identifying information, and our conversation was repeatedly interrupted with queries about the Vibes being projected onto a screen that had been draped over the side of a halal cart. “Can I write something?” “Who wrote that?” The police had repeatedly torn down the screen when it was hoisted up on its own stand because they said it obstructed their view of the protest. “But tonight they seem cool,” Mr. Sayed said.
Mr. Sayed’s background is in civil engineering and architecture–he built Vibe in May, and its predecessor AskLocal in December, as a completely open forum for people to connect and post thoughts, items for sale, events, and the like. It’s a pro-privacy alternative to the data mining social networks that have become so popular in recent years. “I’m not on Twitter, not on Facebook, not on LinkedIn,” he said. “I like anonymity, which is why I wrote this thing.”
For anyone who wasn’t aware, there are a few hundred protesters hanging out downtown in a park plaza two blocks from Wall Street. Despite allegations of Twitter censorship, tweets are collating around the hashtags #occupywallst, #occupywallstreet, #ows and #nycga. So when Betabeat walked past an iPad hooked up to a projector showing short hashtagged messages with the occasional photo, we assumed we were looking at a Twitter client. Turns out that’s not what it is. This app is called Vibe, the “new kid on the social media block,” and it’s something different: a Twitter-esque messaging system built by Hazem Sayed, a professional developer from California who built the app as an anonymous alternative to Twitter, reports the New York Daily News.
Mr. Sayed flew out to the protest after he saw people there were using his app; he’s now earned the nickname “White Hat” as he wanders Liberty Park Plaza, passing out flyers for Vibe and explaining to people how to use it. Vibe is anonymous, temporal and location-specific–perfect for organizing flash mobs (or protests!) or any event you want restricted to the people in the vicinity.
One problem with using Twitter for civic resistance–as it was used in Tehran, for example– is that it creates a real-time record that police, governments and militias can monitor, much like the Occupy Wall Street protesters have a police scanner to keep tabs on what the fuzz is up to. But Vibe limits Big Brother’s surveillance ability by providing an option to limit messages to people within a certain radius.