Anonymous social apps have a history of turning into bullying and harassment, ultimately leading to their failure. But a new company called Ghost believes that putting extra safeguards around the anonymous experience will allow users to have fun, without the usual drawbacks. To test this theory, the company has now launched its Ghost messaging app that allows users to share an anonymous message in a group chat with friends to flirt, joke, or ask questions without revealing their identity. The app also includes a variety of other features, including the ability to ask ChatGPT a question directly within the group chat, among other things.
The idea, explains Ghost founder Cem Kozinoglu, was to make something that was fun to use but still respected the user’s desire for privacy. To accomplish this, the app uses something he calls “Ghost Protocol,” which is a system that uses zero-knowledge proofs on the end user’s device.
This way, the app knows who has access to a given group chat, but Ghost, the company itself, doesn’t.
Drawing from his business background, Kozinoglu understands the motivations of social app users. Prior to Ghost, the founder served as Head of Mobile at GIPHY after the company acquired his Techstars-backed startup /Slash Keyboard. He has seen the latest trends among teen apps, but believes there is potential to make anonymous social networking more secure by not allowing bad behavior.
“We started playing around with this concept, and it also fit very well with the name ‘ghost’ because of the anonymity,” explains Kozinoglu. “But we also know that there is a dark side to anonymity. [There are] these apps coming out – Gas [which was acquired by Discord], Slay, and they’re just focusing on cutting chat and giving positive feedback to their peers… what we’re doing is something like ‘Gas meets Discord’. We want to add different flavors of anonymous messages,” says Kozinoglu.
For example, one type of anonymous message that Ghost allows is anonymous crushes. A user could tell the group that he has a crush on someone without the sender revealing her name. Then, if the other person also has a crush on them, they could have a private chat, similar to Tinder.
In a group chat for a classroom at school, anonymity could allow students to ask questions between peers who may or may not be close friends.
There are also hidden messages that allow users to see who cares about them the most, as the sender is alerted as to who revealed the message.
Meanwhile, “Guess Who” messages initially hide the sender, allowing users to guess who sent the message.
Not all of these types of anonymous messages are available yet, but Kozinoglu says the Anon Crushes feature should be ready to ship next week.
To add protections around anonymity, Ghost uses a moderation system that automatically deletes any Ghost message (anonymous message) if at least two people report it. If the same malefactor sends two phantom messages that are reported, the app will block their anonymous identity in that particular chat group. That is, the application does not block the user from the group chat, only the ability of the user to post anonymously in the group. (In fact, the app itself doesn’t even know which user to block due to their use of the Ghost protocol. He only knows which anonymous identity to restrict).
Finally, if the bad actor is reported in three different groups, resulting in their anonymous identity being banned, they will no longer be able to use “ghost mode” in any group chat.
The Ghost brand also appears alongside other features, such as the ability to be online but invisible, which is called Ghost Status.
Their group chats are limited to 50 users so they don’t get too big, like on Telegram. The idea is that users get to know each other in some way. This also applies to requiring users to allow the app to access their contacts, and we found there’s no way to bypass this permission request.
Another fun and timely feature is the ability to use ChatGPT (the ChatGPT-3.5-turbo model) from within group chat, which allows users to ask the chatbot questions and interact with the bot as a group.
“He is one of the first [use cases of] Multiplayer GPT chat within a group chat, Kozinoglu said in a follow-up email. “He is fully aware of the context. It has been one of the most used features,” he added.
Kozinoglu says the goal isn’t necessarily to replace other messaging apps, but rather to be known for the format it’s introducing.
“In the case of Snapchat, they owned the messages that disappeared,” he says. “In our case, we want to have anonymous messages, any flavor of anonymous messages, and be an alternative place where it’s fun. It’s fun being anonymous. It’s fun to be able to talk to others and allow yourself to have pure freedom of expression,” says Kozinoglu. The latter is particularly important to the Turkish founder, who knows firsthand the difficulties of being able to express himself under a government that stifles free speech.
The company behind Ghost, Catch Social, was actually founded three years ago, but had originally been developing a different product focused on adding chat to a wallet-to-wallet crypto app. A previous co-founder, also of GIPHY, had worked on that project but left the startup about six months ago. There are now nine employees, including two contractors.
To date, Ghost has raised $8 million in two rounds of seed funding from investors including Slow VC, Coinfund, General Catalyst, Betaworks, DreamMachine, Afore VC, 186 VC, D4, and various angels like GIPHY founder Alex Chung. , Wayne Chang, Jeff Siebert and others.
Some of that money is now being spent on customer acquisition — Ghost is doing a lot of marketing on TikTok. But Kozinoglu says they’ve reduced Ghost’s customer acquisition costs to 15 cents per install and are now focusing more on working influencers, not just running ads.
With increased demand for ChatGPT following the release of GPT-4 and Microsoft’s news about Bing, Ghost is focusing more on its own ChatGPT features, which it calls “Ghost Question”. The startup is waiting for access to ChatGPT 4, Kozinoglu notes.
The app had a waiting list of over 50,000 registrations prior to launch. Ghost has since attracted 30,000 installs after last week’s public launch and is now hovering around 50th in the US App Store’s Social Media category.