Today, the Post Secret app officially died. How things spiraled down so quickly is a highly cautionary tale for anyone who fully trusts anonymity — and expects it not to become a tragedy of the commons. As Frank Warren, the founder of Post Secret, states on the website, this was a difficult decision made, but one made necessary due to problems with some of the anonymous secret postings:
Like the PostSecret Blog, the App was designed so each secret was absolutely anonymous. Unfortunately, that absolute anonymity made it very challenging to permanently remove determined users with malicious intent.
99% of the secrets created were in the spirit of PostSecret. Unfortunately, the scale of secrets was so large that even 1% of bad content was overwhelming for our dedicated team of volunteer moderators who worked 24 hours a day 7 days a week removing content that was not just pornographic but also gruesome and at times threatening.
For many users of this app, this is a great loss — not just of a fun way to pass the time, but also the app served as a supportive community for those who were suffering through great loss and difficult times (such as having children with cancer, multiple miscarriages, soldiers with PTSD). And now that community is erased through the removal of the iPhone/iDevice app. Forever. (At least not in a recoverable way).
As cNet reports, users are saddened by the loss of community through the end of the PostSecret app:
“I will always wonder about the beautiful woman fighting cancer that always had the kindest words to say in response to people’s secrets. I will wonder about beard guy and assume he’s still brightening people’s days…Thank you for the opportunity to take a look into the world Frank, and help me realize that I am blessed and privileged in a world where many people are not. It gave me a new sense of compassion for others.”
The app was released in September to much fanfare — including a glowing article in Wired. And according to ReadWriteWeb, the app “taught beautiful lessons about privacy on the web” (and is where you should go to read about what the user experience was like, if you haven’t used the app.) The app rocketed to the top of the App Store, becoming the #1 downloaded app within 24 hours.
And the PostSecret app was a highly entertaining app, easy to use, with secrets ranging from the tragic, to the hilarious, to the simply banal. My own user experience likely followed those of other early adopters — only positives, then surprise by the negatives, then annoyance with those who were wrecking the app for others, to now, acceptance of the shutdown. And the negatives started slow — with anonymous pleas for sexting, complete with Anthony Weiners, moving on to a flood of these posts — and also occasional direct personal attacks. And then things got much worse around Christmas, with the amount of what I would describe as legally obscene pictures posted — no message — so the entire point was to disturb the viewer.
Of course, some of the secrets posted were racist, sexist, or demeaning to others in some ways. But as long as those were “secrets”, they were still within the spirit of PostSecret. But the direction that many of the postings that shut down the app showed the worst side of people generally and specifically on the internet.
The Post Secret app was launched after years of the PostSecret brand as a website, books, and speaking tours. It failed not because people did not want it to succeed — but because a tiny percentage were interested in their own needs, upsetting others, or something else negative towards communities, everyone lost.
I doubt that future app developers will be so amenable to anonymous user experiences as PostSecret was, and the next time you wonder why we can’t have nice things (read: more privacy) remember the griefers, sexters, and haters that ruined the PostSecret app for all.