Anonymous Online Advice

Case Jodel in Finland

Anni Saares


Jodel is a mobile application that is well known for most young adults in Finland. The purpose of Jodel according to the Jodel downloading page in Google Play, is to be a real-time social feed for local people to share the most recent news, ask questions and talk about events and interests anonymously (Google Play, 2021). For many, the use of Jodel is very casual and a daily practice, whether they start conversations themselves or just spend time browsing through channels. Due to its casual feel and effortless usage, Jodel has become an important site for civil dialogue and exchanging views for people from diverse domains. The rise of the internet and social media challenges traditional media and journalism, as new formats for sharing information and ideas arise continuously. Lack of confidence in traditional media institutions can lead to increase in persons entrustment in his/hers own online community and information shared by those participating in the discussion online (Vainikka et al. 2019, 112). 

As with other similar types of anonymous forums in Finland (Vainikka et al. 2019, 100), Jodel has become somewhat of an institution. The application offers ad space and chatrooms for businesses and tv-shows. For example, Nordea bank and Big Brother tv-show have both been active in creating discussion and answering users’ questions in their very own Jodel discussions. It is a very contemporary and clever way to approach a younger audience and to create discourse around one’s business.   

I have used Jodel for many years now, and I have noticed a change in a few years on how people interact and what kind of topics are usually discussed. Many of the most popular channels (Korona, Gym, Tinder, Relationships etc.) are nowadays filled with conversations that start with questions. My main question for this mini article is why people trust other anonymous people online. Why are so many of the conversations circling around questions and answers, and why people search responses and answers to their issues online. 

To answer these questions, I used netnographic research methods by Robert Kozinets (2010). Netnography follows a similar research pattern as ethnography, where planning, data collection, analysis and final representation are all part of the methodology. According to Kozinets, netnography helps to identify interaction styles, practices, rituals, and discourses of online communities (Kozinets 3,2010). Netnography also allows research to be done on communities which might not exist without the internet, and on sensitive subjects that are rarely talked about in a straightforward way in live discussions (Jong 154, 2016). I gathered data from two popular but fairly different channels, Koirat and Naiset, in Jodel and analyzed some repeating themes and patterns. Considering the ethics of collecting such data, Jodel is a public forum which does not demand registration from its users and people post anonymously their discussion which will disappear as new one’s are created. Therefore, the data can be seen as a public domain as it is easily available and is not directly linked to the users themselves. 

The amount of data in Jodel is endless, so I had to narrow it down to two channels that are very familiar to me, and to 50 conversations in each of the channels. Also, material disappears in Jodel when new material is created, so I had to collect my data in a strict time limit. The aim of my data collection was to first examine the rate of questions amongst 50 conversation starters in both channels, and secondly to briefly overview the themes of most frequently asked questions. It is noticeable that the number of questions in the whole collected data is relatively high (Table 1). In Koira channel 70% of conversation starters were questions, while in Naiset channel the percentage was as much as 82%. These numbers imply that the majority of the users starting a conversation use these channels specially for asking questions. The main themes of these questions in Naiset channel varied between relationships (10 starters), fashion & beauty (7), health (7), work (3) and other smaller subjects. In Koira channel themes such as dog training (10), breeds (7), puppy period (7) and health and nutrition (6) were common. Interesting remark: in the 50 conversation openers I checked in Koira channel there were only one picture, were in Kissa channel the ratio between pictures and texts is about 50/50.

MaterialOnline chat, Jodel-app Koira-channelOnline chat, Jodel-app Naiset-channel
Collecting date5.11.2021.3.11.2021.
Quantity of material5050
Quantity of questions 3541
Table 1. Materials collected

One could argue that questions are a natural way to start a conversation, but the idea of trusting unknown people’s advice is an intriguing one. One reason for trusting other users on anonymous sites could be a sense of virtual community which can easily form in social media sites. As people gather to discuss specific topics and find people with similar ideas, a community arises. Compared to finding information on Google, questions in Jodel generate discussion. 95% of the questions I viewed in Naiset-channel caused dialogue between the users, which means that the ones asking questions can receive multiple answers and add follow-up questions if needed.

For the users of anonymous sites such as Jodel, the channels and the discussions on them can be a way to open up and talk about things that could elsewhere be considered to be strange or even stigmatize the talkers (Vainikka et al. 100, 2019). Sharing private topics and point of views are typical for anonymous conversations, and according to Vainikka et al. (2019, 115) often the basis of online discussions. As the conversations can be about anything in the world, or about something that is not typically discussed in everyday relations, it is not surprising that there might be a lot of questions and questioning going on. Since the conversations are held anonymously, participants’ affiliation in other identifying communities will not affect the interaction (Vainikka et al. 2019, 101). It also makes sense that as people are opening up about these types of sensitive subjects, they do so within a community they trust and therefore they listen to the advice of the other users. In addition, the community can offer priceless peer support in the form of both informational and emotional assistance (Vainikka et al. 2019, 107). Peer support can mean a lot for people in despair, for example during a relationship crisis. Strong emotional connection on the issue might increase the will to trust in counsel of others. 

However, the two channels that I decided to examine are quite common and casual in their content. In these channels people ask a lot of questions about everyday matters such as dog food recommendation, Christmas lights, best places to get lunch with friends from Highschool, and where to buy a stylish winter coat. Depending on the subject, searching information by yourself can be more difficult for some people than asking about the issue online. This could be the case especially with people who are used to being informed about thing by their older relatives, teachers or bosses. Searching information online or in the library is common for university students, but still sometimes it can be quicker to ask about certain topics in well themed chat rooms. For example, recommendation for some specific purchases or opinion of certain dog breeds. When it comes to dogs, it is not uncommon for breed clubs to understate the health issues of the breed they are standing for. Therefore, conversations about breeds and health issues are frequent topics in Jodel’s Koira-channel, usually offering more genuine views on breeding.  

From the data I analyzed it seems that people tend to ask very specific, but at the same time generic, questions in Jodel. These types of questions can be hard to google, as they often entail personal experience or opinion. Since Jodel has hundreds of channels people can easily find online communities they fit in and feel safe to share personal issues. The anonymity can help people to open up and it can also encourage larger crowds and marginalized groups of people to participate in discussions, thus increasing the number of answers and creating broader discussion (Scott et al. 2011, 322, 326). The discussions in Jodel can be very productive and bring help or a sense of certainty for those involved. Due to the extensive nature of the discussions, Jodel seems to offer something for everyone. Further research on the topic is required to construct a more comprehensive analysis on why people rely on the information shared by anonymous users in Jodel per se. Even though my analysis and sources offered some explanation and theory, perhaps a qualitative research could offer more extensive reasoning.

Anni Saares is currently working on a Master’s degree in area and cultural studies, majoring in Asian studies and has participated in two student exchange programs in Japan, one being at the University of Tokyo, in which her language skills and cultural knowledge progressed enormously. In her studies and own research, she is most interested in contemporary culture and gender politics in Japan and Asia. Gender inequality and repression are important subjects to Anni, and nowadays the role of social media is significant and ever more increasing in examining both of these areas.

Online sources
Google Play. (2021). Jodel-Hyperlocal Community.
Jodel. Channels “Naiset” (“Women) and “Koira” (“Dog”). 
Jong, Stephanie. (2016). Netnographic research of online communities and culture.
Kozinets, Robert. (2010). Netnography: Doing Ethnographic Research Online.
Scott, Craig; Rains, Stephen & Haseki, Muge (2011). Anonymous communication unmasking findings across fields. Annals of the International Communication Association 35:1, 299–340.
Vainikka, E., & Harju, A. (2019). Anonyymien keskustelupalstojen julkisuus: Marginaaliin jääneiden vertaistukea ja yhteiskuntakritiikkiä. Media & Viestintä42(2), 99–121.