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Counsel App – Crowdsource advice on personal issues anonymously

Hello everyone,

I have been a consumer here but new as a contributor. Hope to get more and more involved now that I am actively pursuing things 🙂

Looking to get feedback from all of you on something I have been working on. Please feel free to give any suggestions and criticisms on the app and the concept itself. It will help me a lot in shaping the app for the future.

I have been working on an app called Counsel using which you can anonymously crowdsource opinions and advice on any personal problem. A lot of us face problems in our daily lives and we can’t always open up to friends and family. We provide you a platform where you can anonymously seek advice from other users who may have gone through the same problems before.

This is how it works


User comes to the app and posts a question(anonymously if she wants). Question comes up on the live feed where other users get to see it. Users can either comment on the question or have a longer discussion via chat. [Screenshots at the end of the post]

Past 2 months more than a 1000 questions have been addressed by the community. We have a very basic version right now but are working to implement machine learning algorithms to work on classification of posts and generating user profiles so that the questions are connected to the most appropriate people.

More than 400 million people suffer from depression and the number is only increasing. The biggest problem is people don’t talk about their problems. And research has been showing that reassurance from others helps a lot.

We can’t help everyone but everyone can help someone 🙂

Looking forward to feedback.

Regards,
Abhinay
@abhinay10

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20 Comments

  1. hi abhinay,

    so you’ve got a great name for the app!

    your google play page says real time. how many folks are attending to these queries – MORE IMPORTANTLY, WHO ARE THESE FOLKS? are they trained counselors, life coaches, psychologists, psycho therapists, psychiatrists?? for you to have some credibility and to answer these serious queries from people who need counselling – you would really need a good team of experts. how do they get time to attend to these queries?

    i think in this post you should mention what kind of experts address the queries etc. would lend more credibility. 

    the q that comes to my mind is that are you equipped to handle a question by a depressed student who says he feels like committing suicide owing to parental pressure to do well in exams. (just a random q)

    or a young startup dude says he keeps starting up on something, keeps failing and has lost a lot of money and is in debt. what should he do? how would you go about answering this query? what would your advice be?

    pls add your twitter handle at the end so i can promote this post. 

    also how different are you from sharing dard in terms of concept/approach? i know you have an app and they didn’t at that time etc etc. 

    http://therodinhoods.com/forum/topics/share-your-true-self-anonymously-through-sharingdard-com

    also pls check out breakuphelpline 🙂

    http://therodinhoods.com/forum/topics/mentors-and-breakuphelpline

  2. Hi Asha,

    Thank you so much for approving the post as well as such a detailed reply.
    [Sorry, long reply ahead :P]

    We have 350+ Daily Active Users currently and these are all normal people. We do have a few users who are counselling psychologists or are pursuing PhD in the field of psychologist but we are not treating them any differently currently.

    We do have plans to onboard professionals soon but at the moment we are focusing on the peer to peer part. The more and more I talk to people it’s becoming clear that people find it much easier to talk to normal people. Talking to an expert online also seems to have a barrier for many people. Even research is beginning to show that techniques like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy(CBT) are proving to be more useful than traditional methods of counselling. If you have ever a reassured a troubled friend that everything is going to be alright and that he should stay strong, then you have practiced a simple form of CBT.

    We make it clear that the app is meant for minor everyday problems rather than major problems in which case one should see a professional. In fact, one of the things that we are looking to do is try and figure out the mood of the user and depending on the severity of the problem direct the person to an expert. We are already filtering out suicide related queries as the platform is not equipped to handle them and direct the user to helplines.

    People find it very reassuring that there are others out there who have gone through the same problem. People from different countries have been answering each other’s questions offering valuable suggestions or just providing a listening ear which allows one to vent it all out.

    Suicide questions – we don’t allow the question to be posted. We display a nice message to the user and request the user to contact the local helpline(a link displays helpline numbers in all countries)

    Startup dude question – My advice to him would be to do a recce of his currents assets and liabilities, short as well as medium term commitments and requirements, and also to write his long term aims. It’s important to figure out how long a runway does he have and what are his possible backup options when the runway has been exhausted. I would further reassure him that life doesn’t always go as planned and it’s how we go fight to emerge from every situation that builds our character and prepares us better for the future. If he is passionate about building things I would suggest another possible option – to join a startup as that caters to his passion as well provides him with a salary that takes of his expenses and maybe a chance to service his debt as well. Ideally this conversation would pan out in the chat 🙂

    SharingDard – I wasn’t aware of SharingDard. Thank you for letting me know about it. In terms of concept, they do seem very similar in terms of the peer to peer approach. I am not sure if it’s still live or lying dormant. Need to do an in-depth analysis. I feel now is a better time for such a concept. Mobile penetration has increased the internet user base tremendously and over the past couple of years there have been several habit changing phenomena – from buying everything online to ordering groceries to commuting via cabs and of course social networking itself.
    Have come across Breakuphelpline 🙂

    Would be happy to answer any more questions. I agree there are several grey areas and we are still finding our feet. Everyday we learn something new and are working to shape the app accordingly.

    Thank you so much once again.
    P.S. Have added my twitter handle(@abhinay10) in the post.

  3. aah. i missed the crowdsource part. i think you should make that bold and mention peer to peer. so basically you are also growing a community!

    since it’s anon – how do you know if the person is genuine or not?

  4. Yes, we are growing a community but powered by intelligence. For example – analysing the question and reaching out to the best users to answer that question(has answered similar questions before, has received lot of upvotes in the same domain – [upvote on advice rolling out soon]). Tailoring the live feed so that user sees the most relevant content.

    One can only ask questions anonymously. Answering questions is not anonymous. We are introducing badges that gives an idea about the quality of the advices a user has been giving. There’s a leaderboard as well 🙂

  5. Copied from my fb response to a post Asha shared:

    Nice name 🙂

    I’d like to draw distinction between personal problems and problems like depression. I feel talking about ones personal problems largely depends on what the problem is — there are problems I share with my family, there are problems I discuss with friends (90% of the cases), and then there are the ones I figure out on my own, and there are few when I *might* turn to Google, Quora etc. (in fact, trying to recollect if I ever did that). For me, personally, it never is the first instinct to go download an app or post on social media/community when I’m faced with such problems. In fact, when I see such questions on Quora et al., I don’t even bother to read or respond. There is no sense of empathy and balance when people with no idea about the person (there is a reason it’s called a “personal” problem) answer such questions; my observation is most Quora responses to such questions are feel-good, impractical, up-vote worthy. That’s it!

    Will this community guide you to the solution? If yes, good.

    If one’s looking for sympathy or self-validation (which is the case with most social media sh*t), then I guess there are bigger personal (pun intended) problems which an app like this won’t solve.

    For problems like depression etc. it’s easy to come up with market size nos, but most people are not even aware they have a mental condition that can be termed as depression. If people are depressed, shouldn’t they seek medical attention than post on a social platform? Are the ones answering such queries experts in their fields or is it regular people suggesting generic, useless bromide? Depression is a very private matter and people don’t share it with others, or they take offense when others suggest so; and most social platforms scale on WoM. Do you see users telling their friends — “hey, you should totally download this app because you look depressed” or “I tried this app and it totally worked when I was depressed”. This is all my personal view. I realize each person is different when it comes to how they handle their personal problems, so may be there is a market. Would be interesting to see how it does.

    Edit: 1. Regarding the sympathy seeking, self-validation kind of personal “problems” – most of us (yes, me too) have done that at some point or the other in life and hence wanted to call it out. 2. I do think problems like depression need to be solved and there is value in anonymity there, but I’m not sure if regular people are equipped to handle those situations. 3. I wanted to draw the distinction because the second one (depression, mental health etc.) is a real problem, but the solution seems to be made for the kind of problems that fall into the former cat.

    Question – is there a strong reason you chose to work on this problem/app? 

  6. Thanks, glad you like the name 🙂

    I agree with you that personal problems and depression are not the same. But I do believe there is some overlap.
    There are a lot of people who do not and/or cannot share many problems with friends. And when it comes to sharing with family, it becomes even more difficult. Moreover, there are people who do not have close friends. It may sound strange or untrue on the face of it, but I can assure you what I am saying is not hyperbole. I also agree that it is not natural for the first instinct to be to look for an app or a platform where you can discuss your problem. In many ways, we hope Counsel becomes a habit changing app. Having said that, many users have come to Counsel because they were looking for such an app. It’s a common conversation I have had with many users who said they had no clue who to turn to and so they looked online.
    I feel the comparison with Quora is invalid because Counsel is a niche. Users are here either to seek help/advice or give advice. Quora is not restricted to any single topic. So, it’s natural for uninterested people to skip over such questions.

    I would again have to disagree with you on the point that there is no empathy because we don’t know the person. To empathise, one does not need to know the person. This point maybe valid for sympathy, surely not for empathy. (Just my opinion 🙂 )

    Coming to your point on seeking sympathy:
    Sometimes a person just needs that reassurance from someone else. It doesn’t solve the problem directly but puts the person in the right frame of mind to be able to deal with the problem much better. How often has a friend told you – “don’t worry, these things happen,things are going to be fine.” ? What I have described above is a very simple form of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). Sympathy has nothing to do with it. Increasingly research is showing that CBT is proving to be more effective than traditional counselling.

    I feel you are missing the point that people do not just get depressed suddenly. It happens over a period of time because we ignore the signs and it gradually builds up and manifests into a bigger problem. Talking about the problem is the first step towards resolving it(according to experts). And Counsel aims to provide that platform. “Depression is a very private matter and people don’t share it with others” – You’re right. But this is exactly what the problem is. Currently, we don’t aim or claim to provide help to people who are already very depressed.

    I know users who have told their friends, “Hey, I was feeling low a few days ago and I tried out this app. It’s nice.” Also, not all cultures are as closed.
    But I agree that most social platforms scale on WoM. However, we don’t have to scale to the level of a Facebook in order to make a difference 🙂 There is so much stigma attached to mental health problems and that needs to change. We do have a lot of things to figure out and we are just finding our feet, making mistakes and trying to learn from them.

    I understand that the views given by you are personal to you. I can easily understand your perspective because for a long time I too subscribed to the same views. But several developments made me understand and realise the importance of everything I have stated above. There are various types of people, with different ways of dealing with situations in life.

    Yes, there is a strong reason I chose to work on this app. At some point I felt the need for such a platform and for quite some time I have been doing something like this offline – giving people my perspective and advising them. Moreover, mobile penetration has reached a point that we are solving all sorts of problems but this is an area that a large number of people are afflicted with and yet not enough is being done to bring the numbers down. (As you said, most people aren’t even aware that they are depressed – another point we are trying to solve).

    Thank you so much for a detailed comment. I really appreciate your taking time out to make some valid points 🙂

  7. Reposting from the FB thread:This isn’t the right way to do it. Asha, I’ve closely watched several such ‘apps’ in the works ..there are several problems with this …I can go into detail but, that’ll be the size of a whole blog .. My concerns – doubt if there are ‘several’ users. Getting friends and family on and just curious folks on is not a measure. I’ve been there with several of folks who I mentor ….Plus, you can confidently say ‘several’ only if you cross 10,000+
    There is a way to make it work …but this isn’t it. Quite frankly, which ‘depressed’ person will go search for an app to download to ask for advice? My fall back is a plain old Google search or ask Siri or even Cortana (or Jeeves just because I like the sound of it) is how I would search for any answers …that’s how all the youngsters find answers …and for how to ..there is YouTube 🙂
    There are exceptions though, for which I use specific sites like WebMD or MayoClinic …but usually get there from a Google search.

  8. There is a basic problem with that – the anonymous bit …

  9. – I do not know what CBT is, but when I googled it sounded like one of those techniques used to treat depression, mental illnesses etc. 

    – You say “we make it clear that the app is meant for minor everyday problems rather than major problems in which case one should see a professional.”  but your messaging, screenshots, examples all point in the other direction. Some thing to think about?

    – The problems (both) are real and there’s no doubt about it, but then it all boils down to do you have a reason so strong that you’re willing to spend years to come up with a solution that works for a majority (and hence my question earlier)

    Best wishes! 🙂

  10. CBT can be used to treat depression, what I mentioned was one of the simpler forms that helps a person to solve minor problems.

    Having a relook at the messaging and screenshots and everything. (This is one of the reasons I put up Counsel here – to get this feedback.) Will change whatever needs to be changed.

    Thank you so much for all your feedback. I really appreciate it. If you have anything else to say, please don’t hesitate 🙂

  11. Hi Amy, 

    I’ll try to address as many of your concerns as I can 🙂

    Slightly disappointed that you chose to conjecture on the number of users. I can assure you that I don’t have 4000 friends and family members 🙂 Misrepresenting facts has never been my thing and I don’t think anything successful can be built by doing it.

    I am not stating an opinion when I say that people have been searching for help/advice/someone to talk to/somewhere to vent out to online. Habits are changing. People are spending more and more time on their mobile screens. What was true before may not necessarily be true now. In fact, an online platform provides people the anonymity that offline ways never do. I am just addressing the larger thought process here. I maintain that for the severest of problems an offline face to face session with a professional is the best way.

    Moreover, a person may not be in depression straightaway to seek advice. If a person feels low it may not necessarily mean she is depressed.

    Google, Siri, Cortana or any other search engine/assistant is great for factual information. Technology has made a lot of advancements but I would have to disagree with anyone who says that using them is better when you are feeling low. Machines, at this point, cannot resolve matters of the mind – or matters that make us human. We are far away from that.

    Maybe I have not been able to put the concept across clearly and if that’s the case then I apologise.
    It’s comforting to talk to a human being, Google can just throw up pre-recorded pieces of information.

    Thank you so much for your reply. I understand what you said is your perspective and I respect it.
    Please feel free to voice your other concerns. The intention of my post was to get perspectives from different people and so far it’s been great 🙂

    Regards,
    Abhinay

  12. Sorry – but whats the difference between this and Quora Anon?

  13. Hi Alok,

    Quora is a knowledge bank of sorts with any and every topic under the sun while Counsel’s focus is life problems.
    Counsel aims to be a social network(we are not totally there yet) which is not ‘positive only’ like Facebook. In its current form, Counsel is more of a forum and we aim to make the forum an entry point to a proper mental wellness platform which will have professionals onboard too.

    Regards,
    Abhinay

  14. I am totally in sync with your views Rishi. I would never feel comfortable posting my problems on the internet for all to see. I am only reminded of the app Secret, which allowed users to post anonymously but ended up as a mess and finally shutting down. 

  15. hey abhinay,

    how are you guys doing? 

  16. a web presence with mobile app will definitely help IMHO 🙂

  17. Nice !  Please include a mechanism to easily track and keep out cyber bullies.

  18. Hi Asha,

    Thanks for checking in.
    Users have nearly doubled, focusing on more ways to get organic growth.
    Have hit some roadblocks, trying to get past them 🙂

  19. Hi Deeti,

    You’re right. Constraints in terms of resource is one reason why we can’t have a proper web presence right now 🙂

  20. Hi Mahesh,

    Thank you.
    We are currently working on introducing features so that moderators(a select group of users) can flag and report posts and users. Currently, it’s being done manually by us with the help of users who have become our champions in terms of shaping the community.

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