The App Store’s most popular free app isn’t what you think it is.
It’s called Sarahah, and in the past week, it’s surged to the top of the App Store in regions like Australia, Ireland, the U.S, and the UK.
Created by Saudi Arabian developer Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq, the app is essentially a social network that lets you send and receive anonymous messages.
Sarahah was built on the premise that people are more willing to be honest when their messages are anonymized, and it’s become particularly popular in Arab-speaking regions and also among English-speaking teenagers.
Development for the social network started back in November 2016, when it was still a simple website and didn’t have an app. Its creator, who has a degree in computer science, wanted to get into app development when he came up with the idea.
Sarahah, which means “frankness” or “honesty”
His original vision for Sarahah, which means “frankness” or “honesty” in Arabic, was to create a tool that would help employees provide unfiltered feedback to their employers.
“There’s an issue in the workplace people need to communicate frankly to their bosses,” said Tawfiq, who works full-time as a business systems analyst at an oil company in Saudi Arabia.
Tawfiq quickly realized that the service could be useful outside of a corporate settings. Friends might want to anonymously provide constructive feedback to each other as well.
So in the fall of 2016, he launched the website and began sharing it within his group of friends. “There was something special about it,” he said. “My ultimate goal was 1,000 [shared] messages.”
But by the end of the year, he only reached a couple of hundred messages, and decided to try a new approach. Inspired by the so-called “connectors” in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point (essentially, people who know everyone), Tawfiq decided to share the app with a friend who he considered to be an major influencer.
According to Tawfiq, the service grew from about 70 users to more than a thousand in the span of just a few days after he shared the app with his influencer friend. From there, it quickly “spread like a virus,” throughout other Arab countries, he told Mashable. Lebanon picked it up, then Tunisia. Then everything changed when Sarahah finally reached Egypt in early 2017.
According to Tawfiq, Sarahah passed 3 million registered users shortly after reaching Egypt. Even now, Sarahah is ranked as the 102nd most popular website in the country, according to rankings from Alexa, an analytics site that tracks the most popular websites by number of visitors.