What do you get when you mix online anonymous chat with hundreds of thousands of potentially discriminatory, disrespectful people? A community so hard to manage that not even $35 million dollars can solve. Such is the sad story for the once promising anonymous social network, Secret.
Today, the founder of the app, David Byttow, announced in a post on Medium that he is winding down the “Secret [app] gracefully.” He goes on to explain that the primary reason behind shutting the doors is because Secret did not represent his initial vision.
I’m extremely proud of our team, which has built a product that was used by over 15 million people and pushed the boundaries of traditional social media. 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.
His initial vision was to provide people a place where they can remove social barriers and talk with others about things they care about. This could range from an escape for the closet nerd, to the more weighty discussion of race or body image challenges. Unfortunately, Byttows innocent intentions had a double-edged sword that the company was not prepared for, and that is the disrespect that is so rampant in an online anonymous community.
Anyone who has ever scrolled through the comment section of almost any published article will see that people throw words at each other in ways that humans rarely (if ever) would in real life. (Take a look at some of the comments on this article here for example) Secret added an additional layer of anonymity that was only a catalyst for such actions. What was intended to provide an outlet for free speech and empathy ended up being a catalyst for hate and discrimination. It seems the management of such disdain proved to be too much as indicated in Byttow’s “Doubled Edged Sword” comment.
The company was promising, and that promise was seen by investors. Secret generated $35 million dollars in funding from investors and was valuated at $100 million 9 short months after inception according to the Wall Street Journal. Despite its initial success, the app didn’t maintain its initial momentum. The Wall Street Journal stated:
In August 2014, the Secret messaging app, which was 10 months old, hit its height in popularity. It secured the No. 11 spot in social-networking category and No. 61 overall in Apple’s App Store, according to App Annie, a service that monitors the traction of mobile apps. The following month, the app dropped and failed to rank among the top 1,500 apps, according to the stats.
Between the challenge of managing mouthfuls and retaining rankings, the founder has decided to throw in the towel. It will be interesting to see how this impacts the future success of other anonymous social networks such as Whisper and Shush, which follow similar concepts.
What do you think of Byttow’s decision? Should he have continued striving to find a way to manage and profit from Secret? Or do you think doing away with a potentially destructive environment will make the world a better place? Let us know in the comments below?