How Important is Anonymity When Asking a Question?

As reported earlier, the Android version of our ASK app is due to launch in April. For the most part, the app will look and feel the same. There will be adjustments to the ways menus work to make them feel more appropriate for this platform, but nothing major. The biggest difference we’ve found is a potential challenge in the way we identify and retain information on unique users. This was such an interesting issue for ASK that it warrants its own post because what’s at stake is the core engagement of the product.

As I start to outline what’s going on here, keep in mind there seems to be a general fear in the world about the perception of asking stupid questions. In the early days of user testing, we heard this time and time again and it was clear from the onset that if we were going to raise the bar in the interaction we were going to have to give people a safe space to engage. From the get go, we made the decision that we wouldn’t onboard users asking for personal information, we wouldn’t collect a login, or even a name to get started. Essentially, we know if you return, but we don’t know anything about you because we don’t ask for any information up front.

In iOS, we use an Apple ID to recognize a user from multiple devices (if they own and iPad and an iPhone, for example) and, as long as they use the same Apple ID it carries a user through when the user upgrades their phone. All of this is pretty seamless on iOS because it happens out of view of the user and, bonus, we are not storing personally identifiable information, so we’re where we want to be on privacy.

Going with the Google ID to recognize users across devices may be problematic for ASK engagement.

Going with the Google ID to recognize users across devices may be problematic for ASK engagement.

Android operates a little differently. We can use a Google ID, but this action happens in view of the user and this is what creates a conundrum. On first use, a user is presented with Google IDs from which to choose. The good news is we still wouldn’t be storing personal information, but the really bad news is twofold. First, it’s impossible to tell users that we are not storing personal information and the natural assumption may be that by selecting an ID it feels like we’d know them more deeply than we do. Second, a known user ID associated with the app may significantly change user interaction because it runs counter to what we’ve heard from users. Namely, people like the anonymity of the app for fear of asking what might be perceived as a stupid question; the app feels like a safe space to explore.

The issue, for ASK, is a big one. A known user ID may change that behavior and in the interest of time, we’ve decided to go with Device ID (seamless to users) and then think about switching to Google ID post-launch when we have enough space to accomplish focus group testing around the change.

In the end, we’ve decided to use the device ID, but going this route only helps us identify the same user on that particular device; if a user upgrades or uses a different device they look like a new user to us. Using the device ID means we can’t effectively welcome someone back, see their conversation history, and make recommendations that build on that relationship.

We’re okay with this as a stopgap measure because it’s the most surefire way for us to retain the engagement that we know has been working. Post launch, however, this will be one of the first things we have to think about re-factoring because those long term goals of building relationships are key. As we rethink this, we’ll need to do a lot of focus groups paired with A/B testing to see if engagement changes with a Google ID and, if so, how much.

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