Sex sells… and so does drama and gossip. For decades, this model has successfully worked for TV, commercials and advertisements, and it might be having the same effect for startups, especially new apps.
It’s Not a Secret Anymore
In the past few weeks, one of the hot topics in the tech world has been anonymous apps – and there’s specifically been a lot of chatter about the Secret App. To give you the quick version, the app allows users to post comments anonymously, which can then be shared with friends and/or the public; the text on the main page of the Secret site currently says, “Share with your friends secretly. Speak freely.”
Sounds fun, right?
Well, don’t get too excited. I’m not here necessarily to praise anonymous apps like these, but instead I’ll offer you a new perspective on why apps like Secret might not be the answer:
- It’s Just a Fad: Like bell-bottom pants or MySpace, trends come and go. Things are considered “cool”…until we get hooked on something else.
- It’s Destructive: Leaking company secrets, ratting out friends, admitting to substance abuse…This is not helping us (or society) in any way. Do I even have to say more?
- Long Term vs. Short Term: The “thrill” and excitement of something new is always tempting in the beginning, but in the long run, anonymous apps could seriously be bad news (see above).
- Doing the Right Thing: “Doing what’s right” is always something you should consider. Deliberately being mean or hurtful – even anonymously – isn’t going to get anyone far, but of course it’s so much easier for some people to do the wrong thing when no one is looking. This is also called integrity.
The Story: What is Brighten?
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to interview student-run startups at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. I spoke with Austin Kevitch, one of the co-Founders of Brighten, who is a senior at Bucknell and member of the Kairos Society.
Kevitch injured his back playing football for Bucknell during his junior year, but instead of being stuck on the sidelines, Kevitch decided to take a “leap of faith” and studied abroad in South Africa for six months.
However, it was the people Kevitch met in Cape Town that made his trip worthwhile. Kevitch and his friends met Oliver, a student from the University of Pennsylvania, who he describes as “one of the most adventurous people he’s ever met;” ultimately, his passion for life and adventure was infectious. However, the friendship wouldn’t last long – Oliver died in a climbing accident during the program’s Spring Break.
After looking at the comments on Oliver’s Facebook wall, Kevitch quickly noticed that his friend had touched many lives. Kevitch wanted to mirror the way people celebrated Oliver’s life into something everyone could experience. Here’s what he did:
- He created a social experiment by making a compliment box at his college house. He left sticky notes and a pen by the box and encouraged his friends to write compliments, inside jokes and anything positive they could think of about someone else living in the house or on campus. Students would come from all over Bucknell’s campus to write and receive compliments — it was pretty much a hit!
- He took his idea online, which he believed would allow people to appreciate their friends by writing positive/uplifting comments.
- Kevitch also made the focus less about self-promotion and negativity. He said he created Brighten because a number of anonymous social networks allow harassment and bullying, and he wanted to create an app that would promote a positive culture.
According to the Brighten page, “anonymity can be used for good.” Here’s more on how Brighten works:
- “Brighten let’s you post anonymously to your friends. Only your gender will be shown. Each commenter has a color (so you know if it’s the same person commenting once).”
- Users can follow their friends to see what people are saying about them — users can also like and comment on these posts.
- Users can send “Brigthens” to anyone in their phone contacts – people recieve an SMS text, but it will still be anonymous.
So Is Brighten Better?
As a society, we’re always chasing what’s “trendy” and “hot.” But what are the long-term effects of apps like Secret? Will they prove to be more than just novelties?
If you’re still unsure, here’s my take: Your life isn’t a reality show or a teen drama that should play out over an app or online. Instead of posting anonymous and nasty comments about each other, our neighbors and corporate drama, shouldn’t we post comments to Brighten someone’s day?