Thoughts on the Secret app

The anonymous sharing app on iOS called Secret has been making the rounds for the past few weeks. Secret has been compared to everything from PostSecret and WikiLeaks to the “burn book” from the movie Mean Girls. The app has circulated some very shady and inappropriate content, but I’ve also seen some really touching and poignant stories shared on it. I think the idea has potential to serve a niche of mobile social media if it continues in the right direction, and I’m going to stick it out.

Here are the observations I’ve made about Secret that interest me the most:

It will be a challenge to eliminate inappropriate content, but they have a chance at it. There are countless examples of websites that allow anonymous participation where gossip and lewd content are rampant. The early days of Secret were no exception – I saw some embarrassing posts and comments about people I know. Many people have stopped using it for this reason and I don’t blame them, and I’m grateful to be out of the spotlight. Secret needs to restore and protect its reputation in order to grow to a larger userbase. I’m sure they’re aware of this and I feel like they’ve done a good job improving it recently. I wonder if they’re going to need to put in continuous effort to solve this problem, through crowd-sourced moderation and automatic classification, as people try to game the system. Or if, on the other hand, people will start acting polite over time and inappropriate content will largely disappear as the norms of this community change.

It’s hard to tell whether Secret is more about friend content or public content. Secret is more social than other anonymous online communities because it identifies “Friend” content authored by someone from your phonebook, and it notifies you when friends post secrets. I really like this: I’m more naturally inclined to comment on secrets that I know come from a friend, asking for more details about a juicy personal story or providing advice or comfort to someone who’s in distress. Unfortunately, there’s no way to filter or sort the feed to just show secrets from friends. Instead I also see a lot of public stories from people I’m not connected to. While some public secrets are entertaining and worthwhile, it frustrates me that I can’t comment on them, especially when the secret is inviting comments from strangers (such as “ask me anything” posts). The lack of a public commenting system keeps Secret from being the ideal place for discussing secrets with strangers and precludes a lot of interesting use cases.

They’ve build a very mobile-optimized experience. Secret’s content consumption interface is mobile-optimized: you interact with the feed via simple touch gestures, and push notifications bring you back into the app when there’s new stuff to see. It’s the perfect app to use multiple times a day in small doses, like while waiting in line. Content creation is also mobile-optimized, with easy photo uploading and editing. Lastly, Secret integrates with the contacts on your phone, making it really easy to get started seeing secrets from people you know. (While Secret uses the term Friend, admittedly my phone contact list has a lot of noise, with college classmates, one-time dates, and friends I’ve made when traveling.)