Whisper, Secret, Yik Yak, Confide … just the names alone convey a sense of secrecy and anonymity. This makes sense as they are all among a new spate of apps that allow users to send other users messages anonymously and semi-anonymously. And, although the new apps have certainly whipped up their share of controversy, their sheer numbers indicate a desire among the public for anonymous sharing. I don’t get it. But, I’ll reserve the rest of my judgements for later in the post. First, let’s take a look at the two most popular of this group of shady apps.
Apparently, Secret is all the rage in Silicon Valley. Founded by former Google and Square employees, the app has a reputation of spreading tech industry gossip. Using Secret is simple — write a note, choose a background and post it anonymously. People in your address book and their friends populate your main feed, along with a selection of popular posts from strangers. If the original post is from your circle of friends, you can comment on it. The app is free at Apple’s App Store.
Whisper is a free iOS and Android mobile app, and an associated paid online service, which also allow users to send messages anonymously and receive replies. Similar to Secret, users post messages which are displayed as text superimposed over an image, similar to greeting cards. The app was launched in March 2012 by CEO Michael Heyward and Brad Brooks, who is the CEO of mobile messaging service TigerText. Although the app was launched a couple of years ago, they have more recently reported explosive growth. In September 2013, TigerText reported that page views increased from 250 million per month to 2.5 billion per day. Now that’s growth.
Image Credit: Mashable
Another good indicator of the popularity of these apps is that marketers have shown great interest in them. According to John McDermott at Digiday, “Universal Studios used Whisper to market the Valentine’s Day release of its film ‘Endless Love’ and streaming video platform Hulu is currently using it to market its forthcoming original series ‘Deadbeat.’” And, according to Seth Fiegerman at Mashable, Gap claims to be the first Fortune 500 company to share a post on Secret. This is not surprising as Gap was among the first of the major brands to share on both Instagram and Vine. So, why is all this important? Well, when the marketers are there it’s always a good sign that the apps are going to be around for a while. So, buckle up because I think we’re in for a nasty ride.
Why all of this heated desire for anonymity? Could it be that we’ve grown so sick of carefully curating our images on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter that we’re looking for a way to “let our hair down,” so to speak? Well, I think these apps sound like a horrible way to do it. So horrible that I have no desire to even take any of them for a test drive. And, I’ll test drive pretty much anything. It just seems like the potential for meaness and bullying is enormous. Don’t we already have enough of that in the world?
So, I need a favor. I need someone who is braver than I am to check out some of these apps and let me know what they think. Do they have a useful purpose? Are the people using them really as mean and cowardly as I suspect them to be? I’m ready to be wrong. In fact, I’d prefer to be wrong. But, honestly, just the premise of these apps scares me so much that I’m not going to spend my time trying them out. Yes, I’m actually going to sit this one out. At least until I’m given a good reason to participate.
With that said, before I tried Twitter I thought it sounded like the world’s biggest waste of time. And, look at me now. I’m hooked. Who knew?
If you’d like more information on anonymous apps, I suggest checking out the following recent articles:
Name-Calling in the Virtual Playground, Nick Bilton, The New York Times
Whispers, secrets and lies? Anonymity apps rise, Barbara Ortutay, The Associated Press
The Allure Of Anonymous Confessional Apps ‘Secret’ And ‘Whisper,’ Nishat Kurwa, NPR