To most, anonymity on the internet sounds like a recipe for toxicity. Still, straight out of the Apple E-Camp, 19-year-old San Diego-native Ariana Sokolov’s app Trill Project proves that this is not always the case.
When Sokolov was sixteen, she and her team of other young women at The Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) realized that social media was missing something. Years later, Apple’s E-Camp would also become a way for Ariana Sokolov to hone in on her technological skills even more.
A conversation with Ariana Sokolov
“When we were devising Trill, all social networks were like a popularity contest,” she said. It’s true – influencer culture has saturated social networks. And made it less about genuine connections and entirely about likes, followers, and superficiality.
“It originally felt like people in our generation on established social networks were focused on getting likes and didn’t allow users to talk about what they’re really feeling in a way they’re really comfortable.”Ariana Sokolov
Trill Project’s beginnings
Sokolov’s launched Trill under her own LLC Logical Nonsense. She created Logical Nonsense so she could publish her creations on the App Store without her parents having to take responsibility back when she was 13.
Apple’s E-Camp has since acted as a way for underrepresented groups in STEM, such as women and youth of color to develop their technology goals. Sokolov has only felt more confident in her approach to trill project after attending Apple’s E-camp.
“I did contract work for different people that wanted to create apps. I wasn’t really expected to have a job or make money. But I wanted to create something that helped others,” said Sokolov.
Trill project gets its name from being a combination of the words “true” and “real.”
“True and real translates to anyone going through the essence of being authentic. And having a social network where you could display a more authentic self than the artificial profiles we put online.”Ariana Sokolov
Trill Project’s honest and community-driven growth
Even though there are a few spaces on traditional platforms where communities gather, one of Sokolov’s team members at WWDC had a hard time finding support when coming out.
Within two weeks of creating a beta, Trill had received over 1500 users thanks to a Tumblr post catering to LGBTQ+ teens and people looking for mental health support. Now, the app has over 75 thousand users from over 42 countries.
Colors replace usernames and profile photos. And with no likes or followers, the app is a much-needed oasis away from the superficiality of traditional social networks.
“We felt anonymity would be a great device to allow people to feel more authentic.”
Anonymity breeding authenticity, while also maintaining a safe space
Trill became a place for teens to be able to talk about anxiety, depression, non-healthy relationships. It is a safe space for everyone to feel comfortable talking about all types of mental health issues.
“We see ourselves as a place where people can gain support and as a bridge in case people are suicidal or being abused,” said Sokolov.
The app detects posts that may be cause for concern. The posts are then sent to a team of about 100 moderators, who have gone through a professional training course, and are vetted by psychologists.
“As an example, if I post something like ‘I don’t want to exist anymore,’ it will get sent to a moderator,” Sokolov said. Moderators then connect users to crisis hotlines and offer counseling support.
Trill Project acting as a place for all people, and moods
If you’re wondering how Trill avoids keeping users stuck in an echo chamber of teens venting about their depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem, there’s a ‘mood’ feature that allows users to filter the content they see in their feed to more ‘positive’-leaning content.
“We found a lot of users didn’t like that there was a lot of negative content, so we asked users how they’re feeling when they’re posting,” Sokolov said.
Ultimately, this feature allows for a safe space for people feeling on the up, and want to see content reflecting their current sentiments.
Sokolov’s advice for aspiring developers who are sitting on a great idea is simple:
“Just focus on the user and results they might have. When we started, our app was crashing all the time because we didn’t really know what we were doing technically. It wasn’t just something that we thought might be cool, but that people could actually benefit from.”
To anyone looking to learn, she says the internet can be a great resource.
“There’s always great resources online to learn app development. Apple’s really good with their documentation,” Sokolov said.
Apple E-Camp helps underrepresented groups in STEM
Participating in Apple’s Entrepreneur Camp, which boosts traditionally underrepresented groups like women and Black entrepreneurs in STEM to pursue their technology goals. Sokolov attended in 2019, where she received special mentorship and guidance from engineering experts.
“We were able to work things through and take a lot of time to think about how our app worked,” Sokolov said.
“You could admit and say that you didn’t know how to do something, and people would help you do it.”
Apple E-Camp accepts scholars worldwide. Being able to interact with female developers of different backgrounds gave Sokolov a new perspective.
“I changed a lot and learned a lot,” she said. “Not just with Apple, but in general as well.”
What does the future look like for Sokolov and Trill Project?
As Trill Project has progressed, Sokolov has learned alongside it. Principally, she has seen the difficulties facing entrepreneurs who are young women.
“Difficulties I faced were transitioning from having just this out-of-school project to being really impactful and getting grants, being established as a company and having people that weren’t taking us seriously,” she explained.
People saw Trill “as just a cute app that would be good for their daughters.”
But Sokolov sees Trill as a part of fulfilling her larger goals for life of creating things that will help people feel like they belong and empower them to be their true selves. A safe space for everyone.
“Personally, I see Trill as giving users a sense of freedom that you don’t get otherwise,” she said. “It’s something amazing where people are able to venture into the world and feel confident in whatever they do.”