Arts and Entertainment | Miscellaneous

iPhone app Whisper hits Columbia, sharing secrets in real time

In middle and high school we all read PostSecret and some (including me) even bought the book. There’s something almost seductive about the idea of a person sharing their deepest, darkest secrets on such a public platform—and for participants, something cathartic about writing down a fact you might not have thought you could face. With his iPhone app, Whisper, Michael Hayward says he’s trying to bring those same feelings to a mobile platform.

“I think the appeal of the platform is all about authenticity. People are craving authenticity in their digital lives,” Hayward said. “The internet has evolved into a virtual show and tell that doesn’t necessarily represent the true picture of what’s actually going on with people.”
Though anyone can post to Whisper, with nearly 100,000 users and more than 750,000 page views a day, it has had a particular appeal on college campuses. For the past two months, Columbia Memes has shifted from its format of captioned, Columbia-related jokes to streams of Whisper posts—the last meme to appear on the site was Nov. 8.

Though some students posting comments on the page have rejected the change in format, the Whisper posts are undeniably related to college life. In the past week, the posts have included, “I only became an RA in hopes of hooking up with my residents,” and “I want my girlfriend’s attention but she’s decided to spend the night finishing her English paper.”

Hayward said that he thinks the app has been “exploding on college campuses” because of one of the special features of Whisper: the ability to see content posted within a mile of your current location.

“You are able to see … what secrets are being shared in real time on your campus,” Hayward said. “So when you look through the app, you’ll notice that a good portion of content is about the college experience—including financial aid issues, managing a difficult workload, Greek life, athletics, roommate issues, etc.”

But Whisper faces the same problem PostSecret encountered when it attempted to expand to the more interactive, social media realm: how to moderate? PostSecret took down its iPhone app just three months after its debut last September, with founder Frank Warren citing a small group of users who posted pornographic and threatening material.

“I was contacted by law enforcement about bad content on the App. Threats were made against users, moderators and my family. As much as we tried, we were unable to maintain a bully-free environment. Weeks ago I had to remove the App from my daughter’s phone,” Warren wrote on PostSecret’s blog when the decision was made.

Hayward said that he addresses that issue on Whisper by employing 24-hour moderators as well as an automated system specifically designed to handle the mass volume of posts.

All in all, Hayward stands by his mobile platform.

“Whisper is all about creating a real time experience where users can share what’s going on with them without having to worry about doing so in the fishbowl of the social web,” he said.

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