Anonymity’s Moment: Secret Is Like Facebook For What You’re Really Thinking

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In the mid-90s, it was all about a/s/l. Then a decade later, Facebook conquered the web, becoming the dominant identity provider on the web. Mark Zuckerberg himself once said that having two identities for yourself was a lack of integrity.

But perhaps the pendulum swung a little too far. Not only did Zuckerberg recently concede on his original point, apps centered on ephemerality and anonymity are now the rage.

Secret is the latest.

It’s an app that lets you share thoughts with friends without revealing who you are. It’s like a riff on Frank Warren’s PostSecret project and it shares similarities with Sequoia-backed Whisper, but what makes Secret stand out is that you’re communicating primarily with friends.

So even though you don’t know who is saying what, you have a higher level of curiosity or empathy because they’re likely to be people you know.

“Secret feels like a masquerade ball,” said co-founder David Mark Byttow, who was the lead on Square Wallet before starting the company. “You know who’s on the guest list, but you don’t know who is saying what.”

He said that the point was to share things you wouldn’t otherwise attach to your name. The kinds of things people share on Secret are a little bit more vulnerable, insecure, emotional, sad, goofy or angry than what you might see on Facebook or Instagram, where people are trying to groom images of picture-perfect lives.

When you think about it, yes, it is kind of absurd that people would need a mobile app to be more vulnerable or self-aware with their friends. But Byttow says that Secret creates a very different space for sharing feelings or thoughts than currently exists through other social networks.

“This isn’t necessarily about sharing secrets. It’s about sharing secretly,” Byttow said. “People feel a sense of belonging or validation when we’re all feeling the same things. I hear people’s internal dialogues and they resonate with me.”

A secret can spread to a friends of a friend or a stranger if they attract ‘likes.’ In the app, I’ll see half of the updates come from friends or friends of friends, while others have arrived from Colombia, New York or Wisconsin if one of my friends has liked them.

Byttow and his co-founder Chrys Bader-Wechseler say that the community is surprisingly non-trollish.

“People give each other advice and there’s this camaraderie,” Bader-Wechseler said. “It touches on this fundamental basic human need to relate to others or help them. And you don’t need to have identity to get that fulfillment.”

Each secret is also its own unit. You can’t see a record or history of secrets from any single user, to keep user privacy safe. The company explains more of its privacy safeguards here. Contacts are hashed, so no raw phone numbers or personal details are sent to Secret to match friends to different friends. Metadata for each secret is also stored without referencing any single user.

The company has raised $1.4 million from investors including Kleiner Perkins, Google Ventures, Alexis Ohanian and Garry Tan through their Initialized Capital vehicle, Index Ventures, Matrix Partners, SV Angel and Fuel Capital.