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What the Hell Happened: New App Called Sidechat Takes off at Harvard

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Move aside, Harvard Confessions — there’s a new anonymous posting board that is taking campus by storm. Amongst the social networking sites popular on campus, the latest to emerge is an app called Sidechat.

Designed to help college students connect with their classmates, Sidechat allows its users to share memes, jokes, and confessions on a Reddit-style forum with those who attend the same school. Students sign up through their university email, which grants them access to their college specific forum. Once signed on, users can view, react to, and create their own posts. They can also respond to other’s posts and start private messages with other users. The catch? Everyone's identity remains completely anonymous — reminiscent of a previously popular social media application, Yik Yak.

Yik Yak was immensely popular among college students back in 2014. Similar to Sidechat, Yik Yak allows users make and view anonymous posts on a forum. However, Yik Yak’s discussion threads are visible to everyone within a five mile radius of each other, regardless of university affiliation. Sidechat, on the other hand, allows students to feel greater privacy and attachment to the space as an exclusively college-oriented one.

Harvard’s Sidechat forum has been getting quite a bit of traffic in the past few weeks — a steady stream of new content is added during most hours of the day, with occasionally over 30 new posts per hour. Posts can rack up hundreds of upvotes in a few hours, and users can view filters for the most popular posts under the “Top” and “Hot” tabs of the app.

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The forum functions as an extension of social life on campus, or rather, a special corner for students to connect beyond the physical spaces offered. It allows students to stay up to date on jokes and trends as well as contribute to campus culture. Most posts feature memes and jokes unique to Harvard, often making fun of a range of topics from student-athlete quirks to the Quad-Yard commute. Posts also center around discussion of current events happening on campus, such as the dissolution of the UC and Yardfest. Meta posts have also evolved, featuring jokes about the kinds of jokes on the platform.

The desire of students to post anonymous messages to their peers is not new. Like Sidechat, Harvard Confessions, a Facebook page, allows students to submit anonymous messages. In contrast with Sidechat, Harvard Confessions must go through a form from which the administrators choose what to post, filtering out confessions which violate community guidelines. The page is public for all to see, and anyone can send in messages. Harvard Confessions clearly shows a demand for an anonymous posting board: The page features more than 11,000 confessions from the past three years.

Because the posting on Harvard Confessions is not instantaneous, the confessions tend to be released in large batches at random times. Furthermore, the easiest way to respond to a post is to reply publicly, so only one direction of communication is anonymous. Sidechat resolves both of these issues and has seen much higher levels of engagement among users.

If Sidechat manages to take off across the country, it would not be the first time a social media service has found its start on a college campus. Containing a dense group of interconnected individuals, college campuses are ripe grounds for trends to spread. Most notably, Facebook began as a site for college students to communicate with each other.

For now, Sidechat remains a niche platform for college students. Only time will tell if it will manage to expand beyond that, or if it will stay just another fad.

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