Last year MIT PhD graduate Robert Morris launched an app called Koko, which he dubbed as “a social network that actually helps people.” With the tagline, “Outsmarting stress, together,” the app uses an innovative form of crowdsourced cognitive therapy that was developed at the MIT Media Lab.
How it works
Wired magazine puts it best: “Koko is what you’d get if you were to combine the swiping gesture of Tinder, the anonymity of Whisper, the upvoting of Reddit, and the earnestness of old-fashioned forums.”
You download the app to your iPhone, iPad, or iPad touch. You pick your location and username that you can change anytime. And you’re in! You browse through people’s posts from around the world. For example, “someone from Australia” is asking for advice about work-related stress. You have the option to “help rethink this” by replying with your advice below the post. Only your username appears when you reply. You may also brows through other people’s replies and give it an upvote.
If you’re going through something stressful and need advice, you’re free to anonymously post your own problems on the network. You start by picking a topic like school, work, family, health, etc. You will be asked to describe the situation in 2-3 sentences or 200 characters max. Then Koko will ask, “What’s your most pessimistic take on this?” to which you answer in 85 characters or less.
If someone crosses the line by posting something disturbing, violent, spammy, or too vague to understand, you may flag it. You may also follow someone’s post to see his/her progress as the hours or days go by. The only things in your inbox are 1. My replies, 2. My posts, and 3. Posts I follow.
There’s a community center where you can talk to the Koko crew and browse through forums and FAQs.
Since its launch last year, the app now includes the option to delete posts and replies, easily change your username, and flag posts that are spam or abusive. You may also keep your location anonymous. Koko continues to ask users to keep sending suggestions to improve the app.
What happened when we used it
When we posted about our pressing problems such as work stress and health issues, it took only a few minutes before other anonymous users from around the world gave their helpful advice. It felt more secure and safe than ranting on Facebook where we know our friends would potentially unfollow us or mock our problems. On Koko, everything is anonymous and people are more open to help.
Some of our posts were ignored, so we tried to reword our dilemma and post anew. We noticed that some topics garnered more attention than the others. For example, when we posted something in a straightforward and humble manner, it garnered more replies than something that sounded too bratty.
When we posted something about depression, our post was immediately flagged and an admin account started sending a private message to check on us. They also sent links to crisis hotlines and suicide prevention links.
Overall, Koko is a promising app. It has an average rating of 4.5 stars on iTunes so far. We’re looking forward to more developments in the app. Try it, CGs!