Remembering Formspring

Posted 2022-01-29.

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In late 2011 the Web was very different. It was a time without Discord, when Twitter wasn't on the news, when Windows Live Messenger was on the way out and Skype was very popular, and Flash was declared harmful by Apple. It was at that time that a newfound fascination for the Steins;Gate anime led me to try the visual novel it was based on. I don't remember if the fan (then official) translation was completed by then, but from browsing the threads on /a/ I became aware of who was working on it. One of the translators, Reading Steiner, had an account on a site called Formspring where he posted updates, so I made an account and followed him there. It of course didn't take me long to completely lose interest in him (who wasn't very active anyway) as I explored the site and followed others. At least, that's how I think it must have gone.

Formspring was a peculiar site with a Q&A format which I had never seen before, and I figured out that popular people used it to respond to their fans' questions or something. If I remember correctly, it worked like this: you had a main feed, an inbox, and a profile page. In your main feed you would see all the answers to questions received by the people you followed. If someone asked you something, you could reply to it in your inbox, and your answers appeared in your profile, which also contained your following and followers counts alongside a shiny green follow button. If you enjoyed an answer, Formspring had "smiles" instead of "favorites" or "likes". Later on they would add the ability to comment on answers, and much later you were to able to "smile" those comments as well.

What kept me glued to Formspring was the ability to mass send questions to your followers. I didn't, obviously, as no one followed me. But early on and by pure chance I happened to follow S______, a very nice fellow interested in psytrance and noise music (as he would share with me privately later) and whom I perceived to be one of the most prolific "askers" on the site. I (and many others) would get questions from him almost every day, and it was thrilling to come up with creative and witty answers to all of them. This back-and-forth made it so he followed me back, and we were in contact for a while.

After that meeting new people felt very organic. Responding to questions in interesting ways made people follow me, and in turn I followed them back. This led me to even more "askers" and even more questions to respond to. I'm reminded of people such as C_______ (supposedly a Japanese girl who was very secretive and asked way too many questions, so we joked about her being a robot, but I don't think she liked that very much), a dude who had a Sakuya (from Touhou Project) avatar who always made very terse comments on your answers, and a guy with a Pavarotti avatar who smiled all your answers if he liked you.

That Sakuya dude wasn't unique; there was an entire community in Formspring based around Touhou. And it's no surprise. Having found Formspring by following a fan of an otaku product (and being one of those fans myself), I was of course bound to gravitate towards the otaku crowd. I would later find out that a lot of the people I was interacting with had come from /jp/, and although I interacted with them in Formspring, I could never join their groups outside the site. Despite that, I did use to talk to some of them individually such as O___, who loved music almost as much as S______ and showed me many good albums, D______n, a complete weirdo who was funny but very annoying and horny, and B_____, whom I became good friends with, even though he really hated me for a while.

I replied to almost every mass question I got and my "wit" made me somewhat popular. I ended up with some of the most smiled posts on the site (I exaggerate, of course) and at one time I even had more than 500 followers on what was otherwise a very small site. I never let this get to my head though, even if the original content and jokes I posted there were good enough for the admins to comment on them. I don't know why, but I was very creative at that point in my life. People rarely asked me questions though, and I reset my followers count on purpose more than once anyway.

I even met the first people I could open up to and consider true friends. How could I forget about D________, a very depressed guy who never stuck with a single name and went on to become a somewhat succesful manager for a certain content creator? I still talk to him, and he's told me he's in contact with a few of the friends he himself made in Formspring. Or M______? She was loved because of her cat drawings and lovely attitude. I will never forget you.

Yet it wasn't all good. Like in any community, there was drama, and very spicy drama at that. I remember how A____ faked her suicide, how M___ attention whored, and how we made fun of one british guy for dating a 14 year old (he got away with it too).

P_____ and A__, who met on Formspring and later became a couple, were among my first true friends. Later I met G_____, whom I talked to so much P_____ thought I was forgetting about him. We grew extremely close, but not even six months would pass before G_____ and I had a disagreement and went our own ways. I don't remember what happened between me and P_____ and A__, but I know A__ got mad at me for something and we stopped talking. The details of course are of no interest to you, but I can't be blamed for looking back at these meetings and failed friendships with much nostalgia, melancholy and regret.

The site wasn't very popular, by far being surpassed by its rival Q&A site Ask.fm. Ask.fm was basically the same thing, but simpler and without much of the community aspect. After more than a year using Formspring, by early 2013 most of the community I was a part of was leaving the site to join Twitter or going back to anonimity (I did the former and regret it to this day). Who knows what happened? The administration of the site was making a lot of unpopular decisions and after struggling to finance the site, in March they announced it would be closed the following month. After this, there was an Archive Team effort to save it, but the date of closure arrived and nothing happened. In May, they announced there was a deal to keep the site alive and in August it was confirmed it was saved and transferred to a new administration. They changed the name of the site to spring.me and it became a dumb site for hooking up that nobody used. So Ask.fm won in the end and is still around, but it's nowhere near as popular as it was.

Despite all the stupid drama and regret and beyond all the fun and games, it was so weird how we all met so many people just by asking questions and responding to them. Although most of the people I met there have now regrettably disappeared from my life, I'm still in contact with a few. A surprising thing, given how awful I am at staying in touch with others. Seriously, can you believe it? Connecting to people because of questions and answers? It's unbelievable.

In the age of Twitter, a sane place like Formspring is dearly missed. It was filled with actual people, without verified accounts spouting propaganda, extremists trying to rile you up, or overt advertising. Since the people were real, the interactions were real. But despite that, I don't wish for a return of Formspring. It's felt artificial every time it's been tried. My experience with Formspring is one of those things that only happen once in a lifetime, and there will never be a social network (in truth, a community) like it again.

I write this in memory of those who made that year so special. Thank you.

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