Anonymous apps: swing of the pendulum? (from the Spring 2014 Newsletter)

Anonymous apps

Two new, free and popular smartphone apps are anonymous. There are no accounts, no profiles, no contact lists, no names attached to posts, and few archives. Is the pendulum swinging away from “social media performance” and the “ultra-curated reputations” of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn? Perhaps NSA revelations have made youth wary? Perhaps the teen and young college-age demographic is intrigued with the mystery of a changing persona? A place to let off steam? A friend in need? Or maybe it’s the confessional again.

Secret, an app on iOS, was introduced in February 2014 by Silicon Valley engineers who wanted a place to share what they could not say face to face and without judgment: “join Secret and speak freely.” When you sign up for Secret, it links to anyone in your contact list who uses Secret, but you never know who is posting unless they choose to reveal themselves. Posts are short bursts of text, for example, “Going through a merger is like going through a double date....” In its short life, Secret has been the source of some untrue business rumors and some personal attacks, so this is not a benign site.

Whisper, for iOS and Android, was introduced two years ago, but took off late in 2013. It has more than three billion page views a month­­—more than CNN’s. A post to Whisper, for instance, says “Nobody at work knows I’m a lesbian,” and then chooses a stock photo to display the thought. On each display you see a button that encourages you to post. Whisper notifies you of posts created by people within a radius of a mile and more. Each day six posts are chosen by the site curators to feature. Founder Michael Heyward says, “There is no safer place,” and 120 real-time curators mean to keep it so.

These two anonymous apps create different network structures from those we are most used to. Whisper seems to be more novel, a departure from previous trash-talking anonymous sites and a distance from incessant “Like me.”

Janice Dunham