SAN FRANCISCO Silicon Valley has its very own version of Gossip Girl.
Secret, an app released on the iPhone just weeks ago, has venture capitalists and start-up founders posting what they dare not speak aloud.
The app lets users post anonymously to friends and friends of friends. You won't know who is actually posting (or responding) only that the poster is someone from your phone or e-mail contact list.
The secrets revealed are juicy, too. Some of the posts include a married VC outing himself as gay, founders ragging on their investors and confessions of tech journalists getting paid off to write stories. Secret co-founders David Byttow and Chrys Bader say their intent is to provide a space where people feel safe to reveal what they're really thinking without the fear of being ridiculed.
Admitting something (anonymously) is the first step to taking that offline and having a conversation about it in real life, Bader, 30, says.
There are plenty of posts from folks in Kentucky to California and everywhere in between. Most of it is centered on Silicon Valley gossip, but does go beyond that to sex confessionals, dating questions and, inevitably, silly cat pictures.
In other words, Secret gives people an outlet to confess things to their friends without any backlash.
Byttow, 32, came up with the idea last year while working with his engineering team at Square. He wanted to provide a way for his team to be honest effectively about various projects. Several versions later and Secret is now, as Byttow puts it, Snapchat for text, except anonymous.
It's no secret that Secret is the brainchild of Bader and Byttow. While wary to admit just how much growth they've experienced the last few weeks, a visibly exhausted Byttow excused himself several times to check his e-mail during the interview. I'm the only one who gets notified right now if something happens, he says.
Secret has already raised $1.5 million from Google Ventures, Kleiner Perkins and Index Ventures. It also recently added a community manager to handle the onslaught of questions from the online community.
The app may owe its rapid growth to a built-in addiction trigger. It will notify you when someone responds to your post or to a post you commented on right away. It's perfectly suited for a crowd that lives for how others value them, their company and their reputation. Not even the Daily Show's John Oliver could pull several members of the Crunchies VIP crowd away from constantly checking updates on Secret during the tech awards ceremony last week.
The app does give some controls for people with very few friends. You can't see secret posts until you have at least three friends on the system, and you won't know if it's a direct friend posting or a friend of a friend until you have at least seven friends using the app.
Juicy as they may be, none of the posts can be verified as fact. Trolls, fakes and mean-spirited posts about individuals have already popped up. While Byttow and Bader didn't have a clear direction just yet on how to solve that, they did say they were working on a fix.
We want people to feel safe, and it's really unfair to call people out on a platform that is anonymous, Byttow says. Putting the power in the hands of the community is the way to solve that.
Along similar lines are user concerns that their posts aren't actually all that anonymous. You have to give the app both your phone number and e-mail address.
That scares people who wonder how their posts could truly be anonymous if Secret has all their contact info and access to their contact lists. Byttow says they take precautions to scramble data and dump posts linked to users after a certain time period. However, the site FAQ admits users names and e-mails could be hacked in the current system. He says they are currently working on a solution to make the site more secure.
Secret sets itself apart from similar apps and sites like Whisper and Post Secret with the circle-of-friends factor. As Byttow puts it: Whisper starts with strangers. Secret starts with people you actually know.
Sarah Buhr is a San Francisco-based freelance journalist. She previously worked at NPR.