Anonymous app Librex abruptly shuts down after nearly three years of operation
Librex, a Yale start-up, unexpectedly shut down on Feb. 17. In its absence, students reflect on their experiences with the online anonymous community space.
Librex, an anonymous and controversial online discussion forum for college students at Ivy League schools, abruptly and permanently shut down on Feb. 17.
All posts were deleted and users were notified Thursday evening through a platform-wide post by the app’s creator, Ryan Schiller ’23. The app was Schiller’s first project, and it was released in 2019 when Schiller was a junior. He ultimately shut down the app because he is pursuing a “new endeavor,” he told the News, and did not think he had the time to maintain Librex, which he has moderated since its inception. In Librex’s absence, a number of new anonymous discussion forums are cropping up on campus. In the app’s absence, Viktor Kagan ’24 told the News that he will remember Librex for the conversations it sparked — but also for its “very toxic environment.”
“It provided a space for valid communication but could also be toxic and abusive,” Kagan said.
The app began on a small scale, with about eight consistent users logging on everyday. But during its three-year run, the app grew to about 6,000 daily active users across the platform, according to Schiller. The app was initially crafted for Yalies, but quickly expanded to include the entire Ivy League, and ultimately grew to include many other colleges as well. The app took the place of YikYak, another anonymous software that spread across college campuses but infamously served as a platform for hateful conversations.
Schiller said he made the app because he thought that “extreme judgment” pervades Yale’s social sphere. His vision for Librex, he said, was to create a space in which people could escape these confines.
“I think a lot of people at Yale are looking for a group of people they can connect to, to develop their voice, and to do so in an open space they can trust,” Schiller said. “Professors told me that they did not feel like they could speak freely about how they truly felt about campus events. Students want a place to say what they mean.”
But the app was controversial, and several students said it often fostered ad hominem attacks on members of Yale’s campus. Under the veil of anonymity, people expressed often contentious opinions.
“While Librex promotes the idea of an anonymous, free speech platform, their lack of regulation led to a great deal of controversy and negative discourse within our Yale community,” José Marín-Lee ’25 told the News.
Some students stayed away from Librex, disliking what they saw as negative and problematic content that came from the app’s unregulated discourse.
Kagan described the Yale-specific Librex as “as positive as it was negative.”
“I remember last year, during the fall YCC elections, someone anonymously commented something vulgar about Aliesa and Reilly’s campaign,” he said. “This in itself made Librex a toxic space, but it has served for good, too, for students to rant about Yale’s inefficacy and inability to understand student concerns.”
Still others emphasized the value of having an anonymous platform to discuss their thoughts and campus life.
Clementine Rice ’25 noted that the media source allowed new students to learn about spontaneous and unconventional campus events, such as the Bass Library naked run.
In the days following Librex’s departure from campus, multiple new anonymous discussion spaces have sprung up. Sidechat, proclaimed as a “Yale-only Yik Yak,” sent out promotional material on Instagram and in Yale GroupMes, and Fizz, another Yale-specific anonymous discussion app, sent out emails to some Yale students. Both apps follow the same general platform Librex initiated, including an “upvote” feature and a comment section.
Andrew West ’25 told the News that the “copycat” apps were likely trying to fill the niche for an anonymous student platform left by Librex’s absence.
“It’s definitely valuable to have a place where people can share their thoughts anonymously, but I feel like having one that’s well-moderated is also important,” West said. “It’s nice to have an environment where you can just ask stupid questions without looking stupid in front of people. It’s important for people to have an outlet — it can be anonymous, but not to the degree where people say stuff that’s offensive.”
Matthew Park ’24 concurred, arguing that there was value in having a space for students to voice opinions or ask sensitive questions to which they did not necessarily want to attach their names.
Apart from the highly public medium of Yitter — the colloquial name for Yale’s student Twittersphere — Park said that there were few other ways for students to spread campus occurrences and opinions in real time.
“Even if some people never took Librex too seriously, I don’t think we can doubt that it was the sole platform that could really aggregate informal discussions among the student body,” Park told the News.
The Librex team — composed of eight engineers, one product manager and six designers — will continue to work together, Schiller said, moving forward on a new, bigger project. Schiller said that he and his team would not have the time to maintain Librex alongside their new endeavor, which he said is coming in the summer and will be aimed at a wider audience.
“Our new endeavor was compelling enough to go all in on, bigger in terms of community and complexity,” Schiller said. “This new endeavor is massive, this thing is so exciting that I needed to act on it quickly and decisively. The team has been ready for a bigger challenge for a while now.”
Creating the Librex app was the first time Schiller had ever coded.
Correction, Feb. 21: An earlier version of this article listed the incorrect number of product managers on the Librex team and the incorrect year in which Schiller published the app. The article has been updated to reflect this.