“Safe” and “Social Network” aren’t things most people would put together nowadays. Then again, Scott McNealy did warn us in 1999 that “privacy is dead” and we just need to “get over it.” The nature of the lack of privacy, however, changes substantially when our social information is used for harm. Bullying is one among the serious offenses that comes to mind.
Scott Gilbert, who developed the weather app Swackett,which has had more than two million downloads, recently launched Soda Pop—a private social network app that lets organizations not only create their own networks but also allows users to post anonymously on areas designated as “safe zones.”
How did a weather app maker get the idea to develop such an application?
As any app developer knows, everyone has a great idea for an app. Gilbert had heard his share of “ideas” but one truly hit a chord. “A church approached me,” he says. “One of the teenagers in their youth group had taken their life and they were asking themselves the question—’is there something we can build, a way for a teenager to use social media privately and anonymously to reach out to someone they trust for help?’”
Gilbert took this to his team; they brainstormed and the result is Soda Pop. Soda Pop allows organizations to create private social networks. But unlike other private networks, users have an added layer of privacy—anonymity. Administrators of private networks give individuals whom they want to allow on their networks a personal trust key–a unique code that allows him or her to join the private network. Each network functions much like any other network with an added feature of the safe zone. In that zone, members of the network can post messages anonymously—so they can post sensitive questions without the fear of retribution, backlash or stigma.
Gilbert sees Soda Pop as useful for organizations like churches and schools, even families. The application, which can be white labeled, is rolling out with their first networks in school districts in Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Even at this early juncture, the districts are finding it instrumental. Gilbert says that in some school districts, the safe zone administrator has been receiving important messages at least once a day.
The app is currently free and the company charges for safe zone agent seats which start at $29 a month. Soda Pop also offers steep discounts for nonprofits and schools.
Soda Pop was recently recognized by the Crisis Prevention Institute as a Difference Maker in the fight against bullying. It was also a finalist in Pittsburgh Technology Council’s Design and Technology Awards (DATA) this year.