Secret was one of the hottest apps of the first half of the year. The ability to send anonymous messages to your friends was delicious at first, leading to a spate of wholly false acquisition rumors, not to mention plenty of malicious backchat about individuals, all spreading thanks to posts on the app.
Its success, along with similar app Whisper, made it seem like anonymous conversation was going to be one of the biggest trends of the year. And yet Whisper was mired by controversy over what it did or did not boast to some visiting Guardian journalists about its user-tracking abilities. Secret, meanwhile, fell out of favor with many and usage reportedly stagnated, which leads us to today’s reboot.
While the previous version of the app was all about making a statement and then sitting back and watching the comments come in, the new one has more in common with anonymous chat apps like Firechat and Yik Yak. As before, you have feeds for messages posted by friends as well as messages posted locally to you. However, the new, text-focused layout seems designed to encourage a flow of casual chat, rather than occasional posts.
Indeed, Secret now seems designed to reduce friction and get people to post more often. You can choose to share with friends OR locally – previously, your post would go to both groups automatically. This may encourage people to discuss one topic with people they know and another with the people around them. My friends may not care when I choose to anonymously moan about the state of the local roads, for example, but it may get a healthy conversation going with those near me.
In my initial testing, the app hasn’t quite got the name of my location right – it keeps encouraging me to ‘Share to East Kilbride’ or Barrow-in-Furness when I’m nowhere near either. Still, the posts it shows in my local feed do seem to be from my home city of Manchester so that’s probably just a small a teething problem.
The other big change is that you can now chat one-on-one (anonymously, of course) with anyone who comments publicly on any post in your feed. These conversations get individual names like ‘Shiny Office’, ‘Cozy Buffet’ or ‘Fantasy Grove’ so you can tell them apart once you have a few on the go.
One thing about my experience of Secret in the past was that a vast majority of the content I saw posted by others was sexual of nature. Whether people will still feel comfortable talking about how horny they are when they can get private responses remains to be seen, but it was evidently a much-requested feature.
So, what does the future hold for Secret? Speaking to The Verge, Secret said that its enterprise-focused product Secret for Work is still in development, and has more than 2,000 users at companies like Facebook and Google. This may ultimately be a way for Secret to monetize, although it’s charging nothing at present.
The current version of the consumer app feels like the already popular Yik Yak but with a focus more on interacting rather than eavesdropping. Will it take off? Maybe that doesn’t matter too much, if it can get businesses to pay up for anonymous chat.