Conducted by Maha Ashraf. Edited by Rissa Kei Chua.
Cover image design by Thanh Le
Maha Ashraf, one of Momentum Magazine’s content writers, conducted an interview with Palis (Fresh) Pisuttisarun, the co-founder of Prism Chat – a free, anonymous chat support system for members of the LGBTQ+ community. In this interview, Fresh answers the how’s, what’s, and why’s of Prism Chat.
Maha: Hello, Fresh! I’m Maha, one of Momentum’s Content Writers. Can you briefly introduce Prism Chat, and its mission?
Fresh: Hello, Maha! Great to meet you and so glad to be here. I’d be happy to introduce Prism Chat! Founded in the summer of 2018, Prism Chat is an online innovative platform that helps LGBTQ+ teenagers from around the world seek mental health support from peers in an engaging and anonymous way by pairing them with peers based on similar interests in a chat-based social network.
Maha: That’s so cool. What inspired you to create Prism Chat?
Fresh: My inspiration for creating Prism Chat was definitely meeting my friend who I co-founded Prism Chat with. We are both part of the LGBTQ+ community but never really felt supported until we met each other. Once experiencing this transformative power of friendship, we decided to build an online network where this relationship could be shared with others too.
Maha: That’s wonderful to hear. If I may ask, how has your experience as an LGBTQ+ individual shaped the way in which Prism Chat was created?
Fresh: As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I used to find support online on forums and social media sites but never found any of these spaces very safe or helpful. I knew many LGBTQ+ friends have once used the Internet for support because it’s so accessible and anonymous but this environment is still not very developed. From my own experience, I had a good idea of what LGBTQ+ teenagers who are in need of support require from online sources and I was able to build in and reciprocate these nuanced needs of the community!
Maha: Ah, I see. On that note, we’ve recently released Issue 01 entitled Eureka. What was your Eureka moment to create Prism, and how did you go from there to materialise the platform?
Fresh: Okay so my eureka moment was probably when I thought of this speaker-listener user role idea because I thought it would create just the right constructive and supportive relationship that people often seek when they want mental health support. Once I envisioned what the platform would look like, I spent a lot of time learning web development, website ethics, UX/UI design, and the like, in order to bring this platform in my imagination to life.
Maha: As well as this, what were the initial responses you received regarding Prism, and how has this changed?
Fresh: The initial responses we received varied a lot. Our LGBTQ+ friends and family who tried it out at first really loved the experience but also gave us much-needed feedback on how to improve the utility of the website. We took on board every single piece of advice we got and went through many, many drafts of the website. To this day, we’re still listening to our users and incorporating all the realistic advice we get!
Maha: Awesome! Adding onto that, did you face any obstacles or receive any negative responses when you started developing Prism?
Fresh: Yes. One obstacle was our school administrators who, upon learning about our project, weren’t so welcoming of the idea. They thought it violated their expectations of safety but we knew that real change can only happen if we learnt to challenge these conservative apprehensions.
Maha: That’s very true and insightful! So what about Prism Chat, do you believe, allowed it to gain momentum?
Fresh: I think what allowed us to gain momentum is probably our marketing style and our technology. We heavily rely on minimalist and liberal designs and allow as much flexibility as possible for our users to customize their own support-seeking experience. Our marketing is also based on one thing: spreading positivity. We aim to create an environment where people could truly be whoever they want and feel empowered by the sense of community. People love sharing Prism Chat voluntarily because they want their friends on it too. The community we have is super supportive of one another. Strangely, the LGBTQ+ community can actually become quite toxic at times because, within the community, there is still discrimination. Our Prism Chat members are welcoming of all identities and provide the safe space without that hate or judgment.
Maha: I’ve seen on your website that you have a large number of organisations that support Prism Chat. How has this recognition helped evolve the platform?
Fresh: The recognition we received are integral to our existence today and we’re incredibly glad for all these opportunities. They provide us with financial, promotional, and strategic support. Many of these organizations, including NGOs, help fund our various ventures. Some of our partners, usually magazines, podcasts, and social media sites, help promote our website to large audiences. As for strategic support, we rely on many of these organizations to help us build strong networks among the LGBTQ+ industry leaders and gain mentorship support.
Maha: Awesome. It’s evident that you’re steadily creating a large user base for your platform. On that note, where do you see Prism Chat going in the next year?
Fresh: In the next year, I plan on turning Prism Chat into an app actually. We recently received a huge grant from True Digital Corporation so we are hoping to make the technologies of Prism Chat even more refined. For example, we hope to build in more advanced algorithms for pairing users together, and create a more personalized experience using machine learning. Of course, we plan to keep our users actively engaged and keep sharing their voices and accomplishments.
Maha: A grant, wow – congratulations! That’s actually so cool. Also, I heard you’re going to Harvard University this fall. Will that change your commitment to the website, and if so, how?
Thank you! And yes, I’m definitely thinking that it will be harder for me to attend to the demands of Prism Chat. Fortunately, it isn’t as demanding as you may imagine as the website itself is quite sustainable. Currently, the website continues to operate and users continue to stay engaged without any active responsibilities on my part. So I see it going forward like this, but of course, any spare time I get I will try my best to continue initiating new ideas to support its growth.
Maha: Sounds like a plan. And where do you think you’ll be taking Prism next year? Are you going to expand your team?
Fresh: That definitely depends on where it goes within the next year. If I find that we’re struggling to maintain it with a team that is so busy, I would be more than happy to recruit new people to work on Prism Chat. We have so many roles and responsibilities and literally anyone can get involved—no restrictions on age, interests, or being LGBTQ+.
Maha: That’s so cool, I’ll keep that in mind. Well, I guess we’ll wrap it up from here. Thank you Fresh for taking time out of your busy schedule to join this interview with me!
Fresh: Of course, thank you and Momentum Magazine for having me! If you or anyone is interested in joining the team, get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org please!