Spring.me, the new social network that was previously Formspring, has raised a total of $5 million in debt and equity seed funding from investors including Right Click Capital, Tank Stream Ventures, Nextec Strategic Capital, and Rubicon Project Founder Craig Roah. The company plans to use the funding to expand Spring.me in the U.S., where it just launched.
Formspring’s demise was due in part to the site’s accidental role in faciliating cyberbullying. Though Spring.me, which currently claims five million regular visitors, acquired the Formspring website and database, it wants to create a completely different reputation for itself by becoming the world’s “friendliest social network.” The site lets users engage in Q&A discussions and group chats, share photos and opinion polls, and send private messages.
One of the first anonymous “ask me anything” platforms, Formspring shut down in March 2013. The closure was partly due to increasing competition from similar features on larger sites like Tumblr. Before closing, Formspring had tried to gain a second lease on life by announcing a shift from anonymous Q&A to interest-based discussions.
User attrition was not the only challenge that Formspring, which had raised $14 million in funding, faced. Cyberbullying was a much more serious problem. The anonymity of the site allowed users to send harrassing messages to one another and Formspring was cited in the suicides of at least two teenagers.
Since Formspring’s closure, a host of anonymous networking and discussion apps have sprung up to replace it, including Ask.fm, Yik Yak, and Whisper, but these sites still have their share of cyberbullies, which is especially problematic because many of their users are teenagers.
Spring.me wants to differentiate from other social networks by encouraging people to make friends through asking and answering questions, CEO Keith O’Brien says. “We have found that is the reason people are on Spring.me. Not for the voyeuristic reasons they are on Ask.fm, Whisper, and Secret.”
O’Brien says that the site will be able to avoid a “Lord of the Flies” environment in part because its members are older and (hopefully) more mature, with many in college or working at their first jobs.
“Most bullying affects 12-16 years old. We have less than 5 percent of our users in that age group, so it has become almost a non-existent issue for us,” he told TechCrunch. The median age of Spring.me’s users is 21 and the average age is 24.
“Our members don’t want to mix with the school kids who are on Yik Yak and Ask.fm. We are not about secrets, gossips, or even anonymity. We provide a platform where people can make friends through Q&A. Members hang out on Spring.me to explore ideas and conversations when they have a spare moment in between studying, shift work, working-from-home, or when traveling,” says O’Brien. “We’re closer to a modern day ICQ than we are to anonymous broadcasting.”
Other measures that Spring.me has taken in its effort to be more “friendly” than competing social networking platforms include Spring.me volunteers or ambassadors chosen from its user ranks, who flag trolls and offensive comments. There are currently about 1,000 ambassadors on the platform, who can earn rewards such as becoming Spring.me “royalty” and earning titles like “lady,” “count,” “princess,” “king,” and “queen,” and early access to new features. The site also uses exclusively smiley emojis in an effort to create a friendlier environment. Users who are under 18 can only receive certain types of messages, and there is a filtering system (similar to Google’s safe search filter) in place so people can decided what kind of content they see.
The site plans to acquire more users by releasing mobile apps by the end of November. Currently, 70 percent of its traffic on desktop and 30 percent is from mobile. The site will also launch matching features and other services similar to the ones on dating sites, including a personality quiz that will match users with similar people. Spring.me will monetize by introducing native advertising when it reached about 20 million to 30 million visitors per month.