Anonymous self-expression is making a comeback. Yes, you read correctly, a comeback. In the late 1990s, there was a website called Just A Tip. Just A Tip allowed you to send people anonymous tips. It was a cleverly designed website and ahead of its time. The website allowed you to pick a situation such as a bad date or annoying coworker, select from hilariously written pre-populated tips and send an email anonymously. When the person read your tip, you received a read receipt notification. The website even mastered the feedback loop. While you did not know who sent you the anonymous tip, there was a link in the email that allowed you to go to the Just A Tip website and send the person an anonymous tip back. Sometimes, the insults would fly back and forth -- all in good fun as the pre-populated content was never too inappropriate in nature. Just A Tip was so ahead of its time that there was really no way to monetize a website like this in late 1990s so with escalating hosting costs, the website eventually shut down.
Back in 2011 when I was working on my own startup Blurtt, I felt the impulse to allow people to "blurt" anonymously. I wanted Blurtt to become a form of therapy for people and it just made sense to give people a cloak of anonymity. I reached out to Frank Warren, the founder of PostSecret who had shut down his version of mobile PostSecret due to abusive posts. I asked Frank if we could potentially partner on a new app, where Blurtt would power PostSecrets. I did not want to blatantly copy PostSecret or even Just A Tip and I wanted Blurtt to become the place where you could blurt exactly how you felt. The partnership never happened and so I embarked alone on the idea of creating 'digital self-expressions.'
It turns out that while my intentions were good, I was incredibly naïve. Shortly after Blurtt launched, I found myself policing endless number of posts which meant I was up at three o'clock in the morning deleting images of private body parts.
I wanted to believe that I was giving people a platform to be themselves but the reality is that when you give people a tool to express whatever they want under the cloak of anonymity, you see humanity at its worst. It got so bad, that I was no longer the founder of a startup that once had the hope of liberating people to speak the truth. It turns out that most people don't care about telling that guy or girl that they have been secretly in love with for years how they really feel. People used Blurtt to post sexually and emotionally abusive content. The app was going down a path that I was morally against and I quietly shut it down with the hope that I could revive a new app that still played on what it means to 'blurt things out.'
1) Don't allow people to upload their own images. Provide a library of pre-approved images that are emotional in nature and could express how someone would feel.
2) Allow a self-policing by customers and build a mechanism where if a post is flagged it goes into a cue for moderation.
3) Build a strong stomach and thick skin. The "secrets" that some people will share will be very tough to read.
"Just A Tip" for consumers sharing their 'secrets': I understand the need to get things off your chest. I really do. Sometimes I wish someone would say to me, "I understand how you feel, I feel the same way!" Before I cofounded Blurtt, I fell in love with a story about President Harry Truman who wanted to 'blurt' about his time in office and instead of speaking these truths (although sometimes he did) he was advised to write them down and put his 'blurts' in a box. What I'd give if this story is true -- to find this box. A personal favorite anonymous forum is The Experience Project. The Experience Project is a place where people can share their stories or experience and people can comment and provide some level of emotional support. They released a mobile app last year.
Self-expression is a subject I am passionate about. Truth is my most important value which is why letting go of what Blurtt could have been has been so difficult for me. All I can hope for is that collectively as a society, we can find healthier ways to cleanse our hearts and souls from the pain and secrets we carry, and that we can find the emotional support we seek and deserve.