Situated Anonymity: Anonymity, Ephemerality, and Hyper-Locality on Social Media

Keith Edwards, Rebecca Grinter, Amy Bruckman
Ari Schlesinger, Eshwar Chandrasekharan, Christina Masden

Anonymity, ephemerality, and hyper-locality are an uncommon set of features in the design of online communities. However, these features were key to Yik Yak's initial success and popularity. In an interview-based study, we found that these three features deeply affected the identity of the community as a whole, the patterns of use, and the ways users committed to this community. We conducted interviews with 18 Yik Yak users on an urban American university campus and found that these three focal design features contributed to casual commitment, transitory use, and emergent community identity. We describe situated anonymity, which is the result of anonymity, ephemerality, and hyper-locality coexisting as focal design features of an online community.

Typically, commitment to an online community has been characterized as either bond-based commitment, meaning attachment to specific users within the community (like on Facebook), or identity-based commitment, meaning attachment to a topic or characteristic-such as home-town pride, surviving cancer, or anime fandom (like 4chan). However, when a community deviates from established practices and thrives, it introduces a compelling opportunity to probe standard understanding. This work extends our understanding of use and identity-versus-bond based commitment, which has implications for the design and study of other atypical online communities.


Pixi Lab researchers are exploring the boundaries between interaction and infrastructure with the goal of creating technology that is not simply usable, but also useful. Taking a human-centered approach, researchers begin by understanding the needs and practices of people through empirical methods, then designing compelling user experiences that fit that context and, finally, building the underlying systems and networking infrastructure necessary to realize that user experience. The lab's interdisciplinary, collaborative projects include new methods to simplify home network management and troubleshooting, as well as security technologies that are more useful and usable by ordinary people.