"Whisper and Secret are about broadcasting," Truth cofounder Ali Saheli told media tech website Mashable. "You shout out anonymously, kind of like on Twitter. The concept of [messaging] phone contacts was more interesting to us."
The app officially debuted April 1, after spending several weeks in public beta in Canada. During that time it cracked the top 100 on the Canadian App Store, coming in 90th and beating out Secret. Saheli says Truth has gained most of its following in Vancouver, but it recently received an unexpected boost from high school and college-age users in New York, California and Florida.
Anonymous messaging apps are a hot ticket right now, especially among young people whose interest in now-traditional social media like Facebook and Twitter is waning. Last month, Secret raised $8.6 million in funding from several investors, including Google Ventures. Whisper, meanwhile, raised $21 million from Sequoia Capital in September. And there are plenty of hungry runners-up in the space, such as Rumr and Backchat, which was created by a high school student.
On the other hand, the concept of communicating anonymously still has a pretty bad rep, and much ink has spilled over their cyberbullying potential. According to a 2011 study by Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, 9 in 10 teens have witnessed cruel or bullying behavior on social media networks.
A Truth user can only message people already in her phone's contacts, however, which the founders hope will encourage playful messages and pranks between friends rather than aggressive trolling or threats.
"We try to keep it light and playful," Saheli says. He estimates content reported as abusive represents less than 5% of all messages. "The most common usage [of Truth] is flirting with classmates. And obviously we've seen a range of uses, like people giving feedback in workplaces."
Saheli adds that the app has controls in place to monitor abusive content. "We have had abusive messages, and we knew that would happen from day one," he says.
Carmen Tsang, a 24-year-old recruiter from Vancouver, mainly uses Truth to speak honestly with her friends, sometimes calling them out on their behavior. "I think if you give feedback [to a friend] with your name attached to it, it can be awkward, and people take it too personally," she says. "When it's anonymous, they can take it more objectively."
Tsang has received a few "truths" of her own, which are "usually quite flirtatious, so that's kind of fun," she says. "You're just playing a game to figure things out."