If you told me that I'd enjoy getting random photographs and messages from people I didn't know a few days ago, I'd have looked at you strangely. Strangely, Fling proved me wrong, and is part of a huge trend of non-standard messaging and social apps. The app, launched 10 months ago, immediately presents you the choice to send a picture or video to up to 50 people at once. Any one of the people who gets your photo can then respond with a visual or text message, and as TechCrunch noted, 'flings' aren't ephemeral, removing the frankly banal forced 'disappearing message' aspect of seemingly every new network. It's working, too, as Fling CEO Marco Nardone told me that over 1.1 million users are logging on a month (and 200,000 active users a day), delivering 33 million "flings" daily. This is growth where users are dealing purely with people they don't know.
I'd argue it's symptomatic of the crushing power of Facebook and their 600 million monthly active users on messenger alone, along with over 700 million WhatsApp users. Snapchat, the cornerstone of the teen messaging market, potentially has over 200 million monthly users according to Business Insider. The result is that new apps trying to do similar things are having a tough time getting established (for example, even the well-celebrated Path Talk has had trouble consistently sustaining growth, not scratching the overall app charts since October 2014 according to Appannie). Those who are trying to recreate a form of ephemeral messaging are potentially doomed, especially if they focus on the Silicon Valley crowd, as Secret found, leading to their shut down last month.
Yik Yak's success has been found through the messaging board mentality that has potentially seen Fling flung into consistent active userbase in under a year. Yik Yak's combination of anonymous messaging and intense locality shows that there's a genuine interest in userbases in having an experience with not only those around them, but potentially those that they don't yet know. As trite as the phrase "a stranger is just a friend you haven't met yet," the growing popularity of Yik Yak and Fling both illustrate an antithesis to Path's original "your circle of friends" mentality. My former client (disclosure: I stopped working with them as of December last year) Wayfare also received genuine interest from the press through the idea that we, as human beings, occasionally want to meet people from all over the world. Fling's map shows you where your messages are going, too, allowing you to connect with people that you simply don't know, and have no way of knowing if you want to.
While a few communiques I've received in dipping into these quasi-anonymous or "new friend" social networks and messaging platforms haven't been perfect, they've also been fascinating. Secret's demise was tragic, but not as tragic as seeing it transform from an anonymous stream of those you may know or don't know. Some led to fascinating off-channel, anonymous conversations about life in silicon valley and the world around us. Strangely, many companies are constantly attempting to race toward the creation of the 'perfect' messenger for your contacts such as BitTorrent's Bleep or Wire, the cross-platform messenger that The Next web called one of their apps of the year. However, it's hard for these apps to fight a war against the experiences that Facebook, Skype and even Apple have borderline perfected. Worse still, people are oftentimes not looking for perfection (Clotaire Rapaille says that the American culture code for quality is "it works"). So a better mousetrap will not be enough to win the hearts and minds of the masses.
According to Fling's Nardone, 93.5% of those who engage in a private conversation with another user return to the app within a week and around 20 billion "flings" are sent a month. It's a strange app that engages users around 7 to 8 minutes a day, which for a purely messaging-based app is quite large. When asked, Nardone said that total users were in the millions, spread worldwide. This isn't a new idea per se - apps like Cyber Dust and Circle have attempted to create the idea of meeting those you don't know through mutual interests and locality. Fling may have just hit their stride through a focused idea - put yourself out there and hope for the best. Hey, it worked for me. I didn't even get sent anything gross. Yet.