April 3, 2014 Updated: April 3, 2014 at 7:35 pm
At a time when Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have people putting forward their most polished, put-together selves, a new class of mobile applications aims for a bit more honesty.
Among the latest is Secret, created by two ex-Googlers who were looking for a way to let people deliver genuine feedback to co-workers. Secret lets friends and friends of friends share their thoughts, gossip, criticism and even plans to propose marriage, under a cloak of near-anonymity.
"This idea that you have to craft this perfect image online," said Secret's 30-year-old co-founder Chrys Bader-Wechseler. "That's stressful. We want to remove that stress."
Secret joins a handful of apps such as Confide, Whisper and Yik Yak that have become popular - and in some cases, notorious - in recent months, by offering users a way to communicate while cloaking their identities.
What happens when people are free to say what they want without a name and profile photo attached? It's an experiment in human nature that harkens to the early days of the Web, when faceless masses with made-up nicknames ruled chat rooms and online message boards.
In the past decade, anonymity has been fading. As Facebook soared to dominate online social networks, the trend shifted toward profiles, real names and the melding of online and offline identities. But as people's online social circles grew from friends to parents, grandparents, in-laws, colleagues and bosses, many became increasingly reluctant to share as openly as they once did.
"People go on Facebook and say they just got engaged. But what you don't see is 'I am going to propose today,'?" said Secret co-founder and CEO David Byttow, 32.
Yik Yak made headlines recently when a California high school went into lockdown after someone used the app to post an anonymous bomb threat.
Although anonymity apps are being criticized as platforms for bullying, supporters say they can be tools for preventing mischief. They have a cathartic value for some.
"My baby boy passed away recently. I saw his picture today and cried. I cried because I love him and miss him. I'm a guy, so no one thinks to talk to me," read a recent post on Secret.
On Secret, users are told when a friend has posted a secret - they just don't know which friend. Whisper, meanwhile, does not tell users how, or if, they are connected to a person posting.