App-tly named: Secret boasts juicy posts, anonymity

New York TimesMarch 23, 2014 

The new social app, Secret, is testing the limits of just how much sharing Silicon Valley thinks is a good thing. That’s because the sharing is done anonymously.

SCREEN GRAB OF SECRET

From Facebook to Twitter to Instagram and Google, many big Internet successes depend on coaxing people into sharing every last bit of information about themselves and their lives.

But a new social app, Secret, is testing the limits of just how much sharing Silicon Valley thinks is a good thing. That’s because the sharing is done anonymously. And, as it turns out, much of the chatter is out of Silicon Valley itself – offering a rare, unvarnished look at the ambitions, disappointments, rivalries, jealousies and obsessions of the engineers and entrepreneurs who live and work there.

Secret, like a number of other recent apps, connects people anonymously through their address books. Messages appear only as from “friend” or “friend of friend.” Juicy posts that receive a lot of likes or comments also appear occasionally, identified simply by the city or state where they originated.

Secret’s makers do not reveal download figures, and it is not highly ranked on iTunes or Google Play charts. But since the service was introduced less than two months ago, it has gained popularity among early adopters and particularly among the tech crowd.

Many of the posts on Secret border on the mundane. But they can also offer a hotbed of Silicon Valley gossip. Some postings go so far as to target specific people, including prominent members of the tech industry, even though such comments go against the app’s guidelines. Because of the anonymity, it is never clear whether the posts are telling the truth.

A few days ago, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen dashed off a series of messages on Twitter that appeared to be directed at lurid gossip circulating on applications like Secret, although he did not name that app.

“Every day, each one of us has many choices about whether to lift people around us up or tear them down,” he wrote in a series of tweets.

Andreessen declined to comment for this article. But his tweets exploded across Twitter as many weighed in on the value of anonymity and ethics.

Sarahjane Sacchetti, a spokeswoman for Secret, said the company did not condone attacks against specific people, adding that gossip about specific people within the tech industry made up “a very small fraction of the overall posts.”

Over a recent breakfast during the South by Southwest technology conference, David Byttow, a founder of Secret, described the app as a “masquerade ball,” where “you know who is there and who is on the list, but no one can see faces.”

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