Secret and Whisper(s): Anonymous gossip apps prove slander sells in Silicon Valley

A pair of apps allowing users to gossip anonymously have taken off in the US - will they be coming to the UK soon? Well, rumour has it...

A new type of social app is taking Silicon Valley by storm fuelled by a frothy mixture of venture capital funding and good old-fashioned gossip. 

Just a week after anonymous confession app Whisper received an additional $30 million of funding (giving it a $200 million evaluation), rival app Secret announced today that it had received its first venture capital, raising $8.6 million just 45 days after launching.

Both apps have a simple premise: you sign up and you tell some secrets. Other users read what you’ve written and can ‘like’ or respond to it, with all communications conducted anonymously. However, while Whisper is more like popular secret-on-a-postcard website Post Secret (confessions on the app are superimposed over pictures and then shared indiscriminately with anyone who’s downloaded the app) Secret only broadcasts your messages to people you know.

It does this mining your phone’s list of contacts to create a rough social network, meaning that every secret and message you see in the app is from someone you know. However, if users ‘like’ a particular message it spreads to everyone in their contact list, meaning that particularly juicy confessions will be read further afield. If a message has more than two degrees of separation from your contact list it is tagged with a vague location - the name of the state it originated from rather than a postal address.

Both apps seem to be taking advantage of a vague tech zeitgeist obsessed with ways of communicating and masking identity. Photo sharing app Snapchat has epitomised this trend so far, allowing users to share self-deleting images as a way to express themselves without fearing future embarrassment; the nod towards privacy also functioning as a token act of protection against the bogeyman of government surveillance.

The Secret iPhone app.

In a blog post announcing their recent funding, the creators of Secret played up to these ideals, saying that their vision is to create “a world flowing with authenticity” where being “more open with each other brings us closer together, builds understanding, and ultimately makes the world a better place.”

This sort of feel-good, utopian grandstanding is familiar to anyone who has seen Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg extoll the virtues of human communication at an earnings call, but Secret – and Whisper – are aiming to de-seat the status-quo of a single, fixed identity that Facebook has propagated.

So far though, the two apps have excelled at different types of gossip. While Whisper seems to embrace more sincere and emotional messages (confessions about alcoholism or heartbreak are common for example), Secret has become notorious for posting gossip aimed at titillating Silicon Valley’s supremely well-connected insiders. Bitchy comments about who is getting funded and who isn’t; unconfirmed rumours about buy-outs and takeovers; no wonder tech site Wired called the app “a Burn Book written by the technology blogger set”.

However, even if the ideals that supposedly underpin these apps soon degenerate into slander and score-settling this doesn’t mean that Secret and Whisper will die out. Rival app PostSecret was eventually shut down due to an abundance of ‘malicious’ posts but Whisper have already hired a large team of moderators to keep the community in check.

Similarly, Secret recently introduced a new algorithim that detects if a user's post is about a specfic individual and warns them to keep it kocher – no “defamatory, offensive, or mean-spirited” messages. But of course, even if these schemes don’t keep the lid on the secrets, a little bit of scandal will only add to the appeal.