Do you want to know a secret?
- 30 April 2014
- From the section Technology
I've been hearing some secrets.
Right now, one person is telling me, "I listen to Dolly Parton every morning before leaving the house." Another says "80% of the time, I'm looking at myself when I Skype with someone". And a third says, "whenever I am home alone, I talk to my cat in an American accent."
All of these slightly weird and frankly rather dull messages popped up in Secret, a gossip and rumour app which has been all the rage in Silicon Valley for a while and is now making its first foray overseas with a UK launch. It is also coming to Ireland, New Zealand and Australia.
I installed Secret last week after it showed its apparent usefulness by breaking a technology industry news story. Two days before the executive behind Google+ announced his departure, Secret had a message from someone saying "Vic Gundotra is interviewing". To a British reader that sounded as if he was recruiting - but in the US it meant he was himself looking for a new job.
Underneath the post, a noisy debate was taking place, with some apparent Google insiders badmouthing Gundotra while others rushed to his defence. An intriguing glimpse of the tensions inside one of the world's most important companies - or just some worthless back-biting from people mouthing off behind a cloak of anonymity?
Then there was the story about Nike apparently scaling back its plans for the Fuelband activity tracker. That too emerged first on Secret when someone posted "the douchebag execs at Nike are going to lay off a bunch of the eng team who developed The Fuelband and other Nike+ stuff." Again, there seemed to be some well-informed gossip in the comments about what was going on inside the company.
The idea behind the app is that you can post anything you want to say anonymously, but as it mines the contacts on your phone - with your permission - you can see if secrets are posted by friends (although you have to guess who they might be).
So far, it's proved a hit in a very limited area - the feverish world of Silicon Valley technology firms. Whether that will translate to the UK is an interesting question. Unless it spreads quickly through early adopters in places like the Tech City crowd in London - or perhaps inside some gossipy UK organisation - there may not be much for users to chew on.
Mind you, the scurrilous gossip about named individuals that we've seen on the US app may prove rather more perilous for Secret under UK libel laws. The other risk for the people behind the app is that it is used for cyber-bullying inside companies or even schools. As Twitter and Facebook have already found, a California base doesn't mean you can simply ignore the culture and legal systems of other countries where you operate.
And the bigger risk may be that there are just not enough interesting secrets out there.
"Secret isn't that exciting any more," says a message which has just popped up on my phone.