By Madison Baldwin — Chattanooga, Tenn.

Unseen, the new anonymous photo sharing app is specially designed for use on college campuses. Unseen went live at UTC in September and has seen rapid growth despite having been available for a short time. The app is available for free download on Andriod and iOS devices. The Echo had an opportunity to interview the co-founder and CEO of Unseen, Michael Schramm.

 Q: How did you come up with the idea?

A: My co-founder Munjal Budhabhatti and I have a history of building collaboration tools for businesses and consumers. After a couple projects ranging from crowdsourcing answers to group messaging, we created Unseen with the understanding that people are looking for better, more meaningful ways to connect with others.

Q: When did development of Unseen begin?

A: May 2014, the very first version of Unseen launched at Texas A&M University.

Q: What was the motivation for creating the app?

A: Nobody needs another Facebook. Instead, we thought that we’d build a product out of traditional social media’s shortcomings. The glaring shortcoming we saw was that traditional social media is inherently inauthentic. You censor yourself and make yourself look as good as you can since your name and relationships are on the line. Anonymity and impermanence make apps like Unseen and Snapchat great alternatives. They allow users to let their guards down and be candid with each other.

But beyond providing an anonymous platform, Unseen is different from other social media because we never ask for any personal information. No email addresses, no usernames, no passwords, no phone numbers — nothing. And furthermore we encrypt all data coming from your device so that no one can ever trace anything back to you. There’s just so much personal information out there right now, we felt like people should have a place to go where they don’t have to worry about their digital footprint.

Photo by Michael Alley Students scroll through UTC’s “Unseen” feed.
Photo by Michael Alley
Students scroll through UTC’s “Unseen” feed.

Q: Hopes for the future? Improvements?

A: Within a month we will be rolling out a new version of Unseen that, in addition to a redesigned interface, will feature direct messaging capabilities. A user who creates a piece of content will be able to send private messages to anyone who comments on their post. Users can exchange photos or messages that self-destruct after opening, leaving no trace.

User privacy is a top priority in every step of Unseen’s development, and so this new direct messaging feature will be completely secure. You may have heard of the recent leak of tens of thousands of personal Snapchat photos. We’ve made sure that nothing like this could happen on Unseen. Just as we encrypt any information about our users’ devices when they post to or make comments on the public feed, direct messages will also be encrypted so that their value is completely useless outside of the Unseen platform.

This new version of Unseen will also contain an expanded list of schools. Students at any school in the country can put their alma mater on the wait list, regardless of the size of their student body.

Q: What do you think of how people have responded to the app? Did you anticipate this?

A: The thing about starting a company is that you never really know what’s going to happen. That’s doubly true when you’re building something that’s so dramatically different from the standard that giants like Facebook have built. We started Unseen knowing that people have privacy concerns about social media as it stands, and that they want new and exciting ways to connect with others. Of course, with anonymity comes some predictable challenges. Trolls, spam, hate, nudity — all of this we expected and prepared ourselves for. We anticipated that, initially, some people would be startled or off-put by the unfiltered nature of Unseen and that we would need to be sensitive to their concerns.

What we didn’t anticipate was how quickly and organically Unseen would grow. We haven’t had to market at all because word of mouth has been such a powerful catalyst in our growth. It’s really affirming to know that we don’t need to tell people to download Unseen because their friends already do that for us.

Another thing we didn’t anticipate was that users would be the ones to speak up against hateful content within the app. We didn’t realize the extent to which anonymity would empower our users to not only say what’s on their minds, but also to keep their community in check without us having to censor or intervene. As Unseen grows, we get to watch a new kind of social responsibility develop. That’s really exciting to us, and it’s not something we really saw coming.

Q: I posted a photo on the app with the text “if you could ask the creator of this app one question, what would it be?” it got 6 ups and these were the comments:

How do you make money off this?

A: We don’t make any money because we don’t advertise within the app and we don’t have any information about our users to sell to advertisers. We are lucky enough to have investors who believe in the vision we have for Unseen and want to help us make it happen.

Q: Can I work for you?

A: We’re growing quickly will certainly continue hiring more employees to meet the demands of Unseen’s growth. If you want to work for us after you graduate, the best way to go about that while you’re still at school is to use the app a lot. Everyone who works at Unseen knows the app inside and out, believes in the long term vision of the app, and wants to see it succeed. Get to know Unseen and help make your school’s feed something that’s thriving and interesting to engage with.

Q: Why the f*** wouldn’t you make instant messaging?

A: It’s on its way!

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