Ask.fm, the Latvian startup that is been left carrying the personal Q&A torch after its motivation, Formspring, pivoted to pastures new, is continuing to grow at a complete clip. It’s now at 65 million registered users, up from 8 million in June last year, and is adding about 300,000 new users per-day, seeing it garner 190 million unique visitors. User sessions sit at a highly engaged 15 minutes on average, also. But this increase is not without price.
In a media backlash reminiscent of some of the reporting around ask.fm tracker in its heyday, and to a lesser degree Facebook, Ask.fm has lately faced claims in the UK, Ireland and elsewhere that the site is not doing enough to shield its mostly teen user base, not least because questions can be posted anonymously. This, say its critics, has created an environment rife with cyber bullying and other inappropriate behavior, together with reports that this has led to some users taking their own lives. Frankly, it makes for depressing and blue reading.
The cost the business is not doing enough or that Ask.fm is fundamentally bad is one that Ask.fm’s CEO and founder Ilja Terebin refutes, of course, though he isn’t insensitive to the problems being raised. Despite being told by another journalist that the company is on somewhat of a PR lock-down, I was able to talk to Terebin earlier today and got the sense he was coming to terms with the turn of events. Even though Ask.fm knew it was on the trail to increase, promising to have overtaken Formspring this time this past year, that the site has continued to grow at this type of clip has clearly caught its founders off guard. Not necessarily in regard to pure traffic — that is what the cloud is for — but to scale the startup’s customer support and community, and in turn its relationship with the media.
Terebin says there has been some fundamental media misconceptions about the way Ask.fm works. Primarily, the capability to accept questions anonymously, although on by default, could be switched off. Yet, based on anecdotal evidence, plenty of adolescents using the service, even after receiving messages that were unsavoury, opt to keep anonymous questions enabled. That’s part of the “enjoyable” of a service like Ask.fm, concedes Terebin, though of course it’s also a characteristic that’s open to trolling and further exploitation. “Users want to attract attention to themselves,” he adds.
Second, although profiles on Ask.fm are public, questions sent to a user’s profile aren’t published until a user chooses to answer. Do not enjoy the tone or matter of a question, then isn’t answered by it, says Terebin.
In addition, users hold the choice to block specific users from posting questions to their profile or use the famous askfmtrackers.com tool which does excellent job. And, obviously, users are required to be over 13 years of age to use Ask.fm, though this is mostly self-policed, like other social media websites.