February 2, 2014

Secret and the Need for Anonymity

There’s been a buzz in the undercurrents of Silicon Valley about Secret Inc. Yesterday the appropriately named mobile app, Secret, launched. Using one’s phone contacts, the service creates an anonymous network with friends to share secrets and photos freely.

In a post on Medium, its founders describe their motivation:

We built Secret for people to be themselves and share anything they’re thinking and feeling with their friends without judgment. We did this by eliminating profile photos and names and by putting the emphasis entirely on the words and images being shared. This way, people are free to express themselves without holding back.

Anonymity reduces our hesitation to create and express ourselves. Last night I stayed home alone. I wasn’t in the mood to be social on a Saturday night like all the cool kids. Instead, I watched standup comedy and played with Secret. I posted a few “secrets” and commented on others. I didn’t have to worry about being judged for hanging out on the internet when I “should be” getting drunk with friends at a bar and meeting women.

Secret and other anonymous social apps provide an outlet for people to fight loneliness and boredom without risk of judgement. We use Facebook, Twitter, MessageMe, and other identity-based communication services for many of the same reasons; however, anonymity avoids social pressures to impart an accepted, desirable persona.

Secret’s not the only new anonymous social app to emerge. Several others have recently appeared on Product Hunt, most notably, Whisper, which raised $21 million, led by Sequoia last September. Whisper shares many elements with Secret but without the friend connection. Other than the location it was sent from, messages on Whisper are completely anonymous, shared among strangers.

WUT calls itself a “semi anonymous chat.” After logging in with Facebook, you’re presented a simple text field. Everything broadcasted on WUT is sent via a push notification to other friends using the service, anonymously. Other than the history of recent push notifications saved on the device, there’s no record of the conversation. It’s dead simple and curiously fun.

Shortwave launched just over a month ago. “Waves” — messages or photos — are shared anonymously for others to view nearby. Open the app and you’ll find an auto-playing stream of communication. Hold the screen to “like” it and promote it to more people.

Viddme, Popcorn Messaging, and Lulu are a few more recent additions to this space.

I’m fascinated to see how this trend evolves and the behaviors that emerge through new forms of expression. Let me know what you think on Twitter (@rrhoover).

Recommended read: The Age Of The Social Network Is Ending by MG Siegler

More Writing by Ryan