How Valuable is Anonymity?

Every social media entity wants your identity. Facebook annoyingly encourages you to "complete your profile" so as to have more information on that identity. If you're well-known, Twitter wants to verify your identity. Google got in some hot water when it tried to eliminate pseudonym accounts in Google+. Most recently, YouTube users reached a threw a fit when Google tied comments on the platform to Google+ accounts.

There's money in identity. Or, more accurately, there's money tied to the data tied to your identity.

There are also subtle and much more personal consequences to having an identity online. We tend to more closely watch what we say when our real names are tied to our words. By and large—as in the case of YouTube—that's a good thing. The entire point is to eliminate trolls, which are a nuisance at best and bullies (who can do a significant amount of real psychological damage) at worst.

So where does that leave anonymity? As with anything else, it's tough to say, but Howwl wants to impact the discussion. Howwl is a very simple social site which allows, and even highly encourages, anonymous use.

The premise is simple: say something anonymously, and others can anonymously comment on it. The team at Howwl is quick to point out their commitment to anonymity: they delete all data after 28 days, and they don't own your data. Instead, everything falls under a Creative Commons license.

The design is strikingly clean, letting the content speak for itself. As for the quality of that content, right now, it varies. I've seen a couple of technology-related posts, some random comments, and some genuinely heartfelt admissions.

Time will tell, of course, whether anonymous posting in general, or Howwl in particular, will catch on. While the jury's still out, though, it certainly makes for a very intriguing (beta) experiment.