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Whisper Announces It Hit 10 Million Users the Same Day Secret Shuts Down. Here's Why.

There are a variety of theories for why Whisper is surviving where Secret struggled.


There are 10 million people opening their Whisper app every month, according to new numbers from the company. This is the first time the anonymous social network has released these stats.

Whisper also announced that it added its first president: Mark Troughton, a former president at Wonga and Green Dot. Troughton was at Green Dot for more than eight years, and oversaw all of the company’s revenue and business development.

The details were announced the same day competitor Secret, the similar confessional app that launched almost two years after Whisper, announced it is officially shutting down. We knew about these numbers yesterday, so it’s possible the timing is just a coincidence. Secret suffered from months of slowing user growth after garnering a lot of attention early last year. In recent months it’s seen the departure of its co-founder and lead engineers.

In conversations with investors and founders in the social space, I’ve heard a variety of theories for why Whisper is surviving where Secret struggled. Whisper targeted a different audience — it went after teens, whereas Secret tackled techies. Teens arguably have more time to spend with and interest in an anonymous confessional app.

Secondly, Secret’s connection to the address book, which allowed people to see whether a post came from a “friend” or “friend of friend,” dissuaded some users from posting honestly and regularly. There was too high a risk of someone triangulating the information and discovering the poster. In contrast, on Whisper all the posts are divorced from location and network, making them more anonymous.

“In the case of Whisper, anonymity is a tool that allows people to be their true self,” Whisper investor Sean Flynn of Shasta Ventures said to Re/code. “If someone has been laid off their job and doesn’t know how to tell their family, Whisper is an outlet for them to connect with others that have shared that experience and can provide advice and empathy.”

Whisper put in place certain barriers to cyberbullying, like blocking people from posting names in the app. As it grew, it employed a giant team in the Philippines to moderate and delete offending posts. Secret blocked names from its app too, but did so six months after launching, when cyberbullying issues had already become prevalent.

“You set the tone for these communities very early on and people mimic it,” Flynn said. “The idea of a community built around negativity is hard to scale.”

Whisper also offered one-to-one messaging in the app early on, which probably increased user engagement. Users would respond to other people’s confessions in private chats, connecting over shared interests and problems. Secret didn’t have a messaging function for a long time, leading the most devoted users to use third-party application Anonyfish as a workaround.

Although Whisper may have outlasted Secret, its success is by no means assured. It also saw dipping user numbers in recent months, according to App Annie app store download data. The company wouldn’t release information on how many active users it had a year ago, so we can’t speak to its growth rate.

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