February 18, 2014

Going Private in Public with Whisper and anonymous sharing

Posted by: in North America

In early 2013, Snapchat seemed to burst into mainstream consciousness, and the media rushed to explore the new phenomenon of ephemeral messaging. This year the suddenly-big new thing is anonymous sharing, and Whisper is the app populating headlines, from The Wall Street Journal to New York magazine. Whisper lets users “be yourself and stay anonymous,” as it promises; people post thoughts and secrets and connect with others, all anonymously. Like Snapchat, the user base skews very young, and the numbers are dizzying: about 3.5 billion page views a month and more than 20 posts per second at peak hours, according to its CEO. Another app, Secret, enables anonymous sharing but within one’s network of friends.

While many are worried about the potential for slander, bullying and other abuse, Secret’s creators tell Time that their aim is to build “a platform that will bring more authenticity, self-awareness and empathy to the world.” Similarly, Whisper CEO Michael Heyward talks about his app enabling our masks to come off, and editor-in-chief Neetzan Zimmerman describes it as “the anti-Facebook.”

Two trends we’ve outlined come together here. Going Private in Public, one of our 10 Trends for 2013, spotlights the idea that rather than rejecting today’s ubiquitous social media and sharing tools outright, people are coming up with creative ways to carve out private spaces in their lives while reaping all the benefits of a vibrant digital identity. Snapchat was among the manifestations we cited. This year, one of our 10 Trends is Proudly Imperfect, the notion that imperfection is taking on new appeal, in part because it provides a more unfiltered, human version of reality—exactly what many of the anonymous messages reveal, in contrast to carefully curated Facebook feeds.

While researching Proudly Imperfect last fall, we talked to Jill Savage, author of No More Perfect Moms, whose phrasing echoes that of these app creators. With social media giving us a “very skewed perspective” on each other’s lives, she said, today’s mothers are ”screaming for more authenticity in life. … They’re seeking a willingness to take off the mask, a willingness to stop keeping secrets.” In 2014, watch for this idea to play out in interesting and inevitably complicated ways.

Image credit: Whisper

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