April 30, 2015
No one in the tech community is happy to see a startup fail. It’s an emotional ordeal where jobs are lost and lives are disrupted suddenly. So when news broke that anonymous sharing app Secret shut down, there was disappointment.
Secret’s founder David Byttow wrote a blog post confirming the end, and explaining that the company will be giving back the $35 million to investors. The reason why they are not taking the investment and pivoting is because the company decided to take the high road.
“Unfortunately, Secret does not represent the vision I had when starting the company, so I believe it’s the right decision for myself, our investors and our team,” wrote Byttow.
The original vision for Secret was to create a space where people could have honest discussions without being ostracized for sharing their thoughts. That’s why posts where anonymous (except you knew the person’s location), so people would share their deepest secret, regardless of how controversial they would be. At first, people loved the idea of anonymous apps, other apps like Whisper and Yik Yak also brought a lot of hype around this idea of sharing secrets online. Secret’s two founders, Byttow and Chrys Bader-Wechseler were able to each take $3 million.
But what happened to Secret was that it became a place where people shared graphic content, unacceptable even for adults. It was a place where people became bullies and spewed hateful comments about everything. The intention of the app was to create a safe space for honest discussions, but instead it became a thread of endless negativity.
This turned many users off.
“I believe in honest, open communication and creative expression, and anonymity is a great device to achieve it. But it’s also the ultimate double-edged sword, which must be wielded with great respect and care. I look forward to seeing what others in this space do over time,” said Byttow.
Anonymity tends to bring the worst out of people, mainly because we remove accountability for actions. Of course, anonymity also protects people, especially those in repressive societies. In this case, our obsession with secrets turned into antagonism.
Research has proven that people are meaner when anonymous, especially online. In a study titled, “Virtuous or Vitriolic: The Effect of Anonymity on Civility in Online Newspaper Reader Comment Boards,” researchers found that, “53.3 percent of anonymous comments included language that was vulgar, racist, profane or hateful.” The non-anonymous commenters were nearly three times as likely to post civil comments.
Not everyone has an evil grinch living inside them, so understandably, there were many disappointed users.
“Innovation requires failure, and I believe in failing fast in order to go on and make only new and different mistakes,” said Byttow.
But the show must go on. Maybe Secret was not a failure, but a social experiment; a reflection of how we respond to events around us. It was nice while the fun lasted but as my grandmother always says: This is exactly why we can’t have nice things.
Image Credit: Flickr/Chedder
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