Formspring: Social Networking, Taliban-Style

In the virtual universe that is the Internet, it’s the equivalent of a bathroom wall, with all the taste and concern for social convention associated with that venerable institution. It’s also anonymous.

One of the newer social networking sites online, Formspring has grown to become a clearinghouse for opinions, insults and other public verbal flaying for Generation Next.

For the most part, Formspring is simply the most recent place for teens and others to chill and dish the dirt: something kids—and everyone else—have done since time out of mind.

Still new enough that it hasn’t fallen under the scrutiny of many parents and educators, the site has become Ground Zero for thousands of teenagers and their comments over the past few months.

Like other social networking sites, users set up a Formspring account, which they can link to their Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr accounts; young people can then invite their friends to post comments or ask questions. But the anonymity of posters means that the conversation is often raw.

Comments are sent to a private mailbox. Only comments that are answered get posted publicly. Many who view the posts are teenagers who haven’t set up their own Form- spring accounts, but want to check their friends’ pages to see if they are mentioned.

Although users have the option to not accept anonymous comments or questions, most young people apparently choose to accept them. Some Formspring users say the negative comments are what drive them to the site. The site went on- line in late November. Over 28 million people visit the site each month, 14 million of those in the U.S.

Formspring was started in Indianapolis by John Wechsler and Ade Olonoh. It recently raised $2.5 million and relocated to San Fran- cisco. According to the company, over three million questions have been asked and answered on its site. Olonoh told The New York Times that the company does not know what percentage of its users are teenagers.

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