There’s a lot to dislike about “The Social Network,” Aaron Sorkin’s gloomy film about Facebook’s founding. The characters speak like they’ve just done a line off a book of witticisms. Nobody seems to know how to turn on a light. And some things didn’t happen quite as they were portrayed in the movie: Mark Zuckerberg — spoiler alert — didn’t refresh his ex-girlfriend’s Facebook page as he pouted in a dimly-lit boardroom.
One of the film’s better moments is when the girlfriend (played by Rooney Mara) tells the fictionalized Zuckerberg that “the Internet isn’t written in pencil… it’s written in ink.” It’s a clever way of saying what every post-Facebook Internet user knows: Everything you do online is stored by some company on some server farm, because you used some service or another. But what if it wasn’t?
Frankly, a mobile messaging startup, is today announcing that it has raised $6 million to develop a service meant to answer that very question. It’s part of a nascent trend favoring ephemerality over permanence, of finding some semblance of privacy and intimacy that has become all too rare on public social networks like Facebook or Twitter.
The service, available today for the iPhone and Android-powered smartphones, is trying to promote real conversations by allowing users to chat anonymously with their friends, un-send messages, and watch their communications disappear eight seconds after being read. It is, to put it bluntly, a text-based Snapchat.
“We think that in a world where everything is being recorded, whether that’s your Facebook post or a tweet or something that you post on Tumblr, that kind of permanent digital record is stifling digital conversation,” says Frankly CEO Steve Chung. “It’s making it less real. It’s become too artificial and overly curated.”
Allowing people to communicate without having to worry about their messages being stored until the sun explodes and the last hard drives give out is meant to change that.
Chung says that his hope is for Frankly to become the default text-messaging application for its users — once it’s accomplished that it can help establish ephemerality as the default. Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel said something similar at this year’s D: Dive Into Mobile technology conference.
Frankly and Snapchat aren’t the only companies trying to lend the Web some impermanence. An increasing number of services, such as Efemr or Spirit, promise to automatically delete tweets after a certain amount of time has passed. Gryphn is doing something similar to Frankly, though it focuses more on security and less on providing a place for honest discussion. Clipchat is a blatant Snapchat rip-off that deals in videos instead of pictures. The list goes on.
The trouble with many of these services is that they can’t quite figure out how to make money. It’s hard to sell ads against users you know almost nothing about, and many of these services don’t offer premium subscriptions or offer in-app purchases. Relying on a service for daily communications only to find that it can’t close another funding round and will have to shut down might be the quintessential #firstworldproblem, but it’s a problem nonetheless.
When — or if, rather — that problem is solved, it would be easy to imagine an Internet where many communications are written in pencil. Until then, however, it seems that our messages, photos, and videos will be stained by ink.
[Image via Thinkstock]