Psst! Yes, I’m talking to you. Less than 2 weeks ago, a new app called Secret debuted on Apple's AppStore and it’s absolutely blowing up in San Francisco. If you want want to see what all the fuss is about, you can just go ahead and download it for yourself, be one of the cool kids. Secret is fiendishly simple: It lets you post anonymously whatever is on your mind and your “secret” is then shared with people you know thanks to the app checking out the contacts in your phone book. If enough people you know find your secret interesting, then it gets shared more widely for other users of the app to see. For that reason, I — and a whole host of other people — now know that someone in New Mexico secretly paints, but lacks the confidence to show anyone. And that in Illinois, one user hides their insecurity from a lover: “I need you, and show it by making you think I’m perfectly fine without you.”
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For the moment, these windows into the anonymous lives of Secret users are getting lots of feedback in the app, where you can “heart” anything, which is the equivalent of a “Like” in Facebook. You can also comment on any secret anonymously and if the original poster wishes to interact with you, they can do so. Of course, too much chatter risks revealing the person who posted the secret in the first place. And that would likely cause a lot of trouble in the Silicon Valley/San Francisco area, where the app has become the talk of the town. Venture capitalist Keith Rabois tweeted: “Standard entrepreneurial coffee/event/meeting starts w what do you think about Bitcoin. This weekend most … switched to views of Secret.”
But the popularity of the app isn’t limited to this part of the world. Technology types I know in New York, Southern California and Chicago are all buzzing as well. And Secret has entrenched itself enough that it has already threatened to break news: Last Thursday someone posted, “I work at Evernote and we’re about to be acquired,” which led the company’s CEO Phil Libin to take to Twitter to immediately deny the rumor. There has been plenty of other dishing about bosses, co-workers, startup founders — personal and professional.
Whether this is a all just a passing moment — the app flavor of the month — or the start of the next big thing, won’t be clear for a while. But what is clear is that interest in communication that’s either disposable or anonymous is very much on the rise. The explosive growth of Snapchat, which allows users to send messages that disappear after being read, led to the development of Confide, a professional app with similar functionality. Before the launch of Secret, which is backed by Google Ventures and Kleiner Perkins, a similar app called Whisper raised a total of $24 million from Sequoia Capital and Lightspeed Ventures. Whisper’s design is less beautiful than Secret’s but fundamentally it offers the same experience: anonymous sharing of whatever’s on your mind with a visual attached.
The big difference is that Secret offers this tantalizing clue as to where the dish came from. As more of your friends join, you’ll eventually see secrets from them or “friends of friends.” By talking offline with a friend about what you both saw inside the app, you might be able to figure out who posted a secret in the first place. The key word there is might. The only way you’d know for sure is if you could find enough people with slightly different contact lists and eventually rule out people one by one. The app’s designers are aware of this. David Byttow, a former Googler who co-developed the app with Chrys Bader, has taken to Quora and Medium to explain some of the inner workings about the app. While it uses your phonebook to know who your contacts are, it doesn’t actually send it to Secret’s servers, for example. The developers also have put in safeguards designed to prevent you from pinpointing where a secret came from by trying to delete contacts your list.
But there are skeptics about just how secure the platform is. One small security hole has already been found, as TechCrunch reported. David Ulevitch, the CEO of security company OpenDNS believes more will come. “My thoughts on Secret are simple: It will be broken. App needs: good security design & good implementation. I imagine it has 0/2 or 1/2,” he wrote on Twitter. After that, he played around with Secret a bit to see what it would take to identify the original poster of a message. His analysis was a bit technical, but the implications were that as things currently stand it’s doable. Of course, Ulevitch is acting as a good guy in this case and the Secret team might well up the protections. But it’s worth keeping in mind that if post something you shouldn’t have the day before someone figures out how to pierce the veil of anonymity, you could find yourself in hot water.
Right now, though, Secret itself is what’s hot. And everyone here is talking about it — and posting on it. It feels like it has the potential to go mainstream very quickly. Whether it burns out like Airtime or turntable.fm, which had their 15 minutes of fame but not a lot more, or is the next Instagram or Snapchat is the Secret no one yet knows.
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