This guest post was written by Alexis Ohanian, reddit cofounder and investor in Secret. Anonymous publishing isn’t new, but now it’s in everyone’s hands.
Garry Tan and I were the first money into Secret. We’d known the founders well (I’d even invested in Chrys’ previous company, which folded, but demonstrated he had a talent for making beautiful products) and even though their early alpha of Secret only had a hundred or so users, it was giving me that tingling feeling I’ve only gotten on a few occasions: reddit, hipmunk, and now Secret.
Here was a mobile platform to share intimate, anonymous secrets and connect with friends (behind veils, of course) or strangers from around the world. It’s been 9 years since Steve Huffman and I launched reddit, a pseudonymous platform for online communities to share links & discussions.
The platform has half a million communities, each generates amazing content (more than half on reddit itself, in self posts, as opposed to linking elsewhere). There’s an entire community of people on /r/doesanybodyelse finding commonality with others over mundane, silly, and sometimes bizarre things. e.g., “[Does Anybody Else] sing to their cat by replacing some lyrics with their cat’s name or a word/words for cat, e.g cat, kitty, kitten e.t.c.”
I just randomly looked on the front page while writing this article and found that; as it turns out, yes, I do indeed sing to my cat this way.
Well before we built reddit, there have long been mass communication platforms, all of which had a valuable opportunity for anonymity. We’ve been here before. The problem is not anonymity.
Anonymous printing made sure Thomas Paine (the original T. Paine!) didn’t die for his traitorous pamphleteering and instead the United States of America would be born. Pseudonymity allowed us to read the genius of the Brontë sisters at a time when only men were getting published. The solution is not to eliminate anonymity, which is a dangerous idea, because of the disenfranchised voices it would squelch. Facebook ID beside everything you publish? Absolutely not. I’ll admit, most of the time it’s silly.
You wouldn’t want your boss to read this.
But perhaps you just don’t want the world to find out with a change to the “Interested In” section of your profile.
Or maybe you’re just looking for comfort and there are some things you need to share that don’t work with a “like” button beside them.
I’d advise against posting this on your Facebook wall if you call Russia home.
Like all tools, this new publishing technology comes down to how we as individuals use it, but I’m heartened by every post I see that allows someone to share something about themselves that they’d never have been able to with their name attached. These are just a few examples, but anonymity enables us to be truly honest, creative, and open.
And it’s here to stay. It’s been here all along.
Anonymity has and always will be a vital piece of publishing. The data from the 110M people who use reddit every month certainly shows this; it’s almost all benign or positive content. The reasonable people never make headlines. While a few bad actors get all the public attention, everyone else continues to be a silent vast majority of reasonable people using anonymity as it has been used for generations — to be a little more human.