How Secret uses your Address Book

Nobody wants to "follow their friends" anymore when signing up for mobile apps. In its place, the Address Book is beginning to reign.

Secret is one of the first anonymous and non-messaging apps to rely exclusively on your Address Book as its primary social graph. This is a significant evolution, and one that makes Secret incredibly compelling. (More on this trend from an essay by Josh Miller).

I'd argue that Secret's most valuable feature is getting you to grant the Address Book permission. Once granted that permission, there are many tactics here used by the app that you should learn and apply to your own products.

THE FOUNT OF EVERYTHING FOMO

The Address Book is the source of everything interesting, sticky, and alluring in Secret.

It gives us a social connection to the people making the posts. Unlike Whisper, which is completely anonymous, we know that just behind the veil of anonymity is somebody know or might know of.

In Secret's signup flow, the Address Book permissions button is incredibly innocuous. The copy is a comforting, gentle pitch to the user about the benefits of not having to "manage a friend list." After granting the permission, Secret makes the user feel reassured with their choice, being reminded of the fact that they should remember that "everything is shared anonymously."

And to keep us hooked, Secret preys on our fear of missing out (FOMO) by emotionally attaching us to a clever stream of subtle messages. Read below.

THE PUSH NOTIFICATION PARTY

I've never seen an app send such effective push notifications. If Secret disappeared tomorrow, this is what I'll remember it for.

These notifications:

  • Taunt you with the knowledge that someone you know posted a secret (try and prevent yourself from opening the app after that push notification)
  • Tantalize you when it tells how many of your friends signed up ("Friend number 50 joined. Who could it be?")

Look at my push notifications. It makes me feel like I'm missing out on the hottest party to grace my phone since Snapchat promised to sext me (a promise yet unfulfilled).

KEEPING ME HOOKED LIKE A DOG

Secret's smart algorithm fills in the gaps of my feed when my friends aren't posting anything. But you'd better believe my eye is stuck to the lower left corner of every Secret to see if it's a friend or friend of a friend who posted. The app cleverly trains us like Pavlovian dogs to sift through the feed and find the ones where I might know the person who wrote a Secret.

NATURAL VIRALITY TO UNLOCK CONTENT

Don't have more than three friends on Secret? Brilliant! To unlock a post from a friend, you have to invite more of them. I love this viral hack. I'm sure this is extremely effective. Who can resist the mystery?

USE THIS TACTIC IN YOUR PRODUCTS

To many of you this tactic is going to seem simplistic. But that's the power of it. Secret expertly maximizes every opportunity it has to make the most of your Address Book.

Steal this idea. Use it in your own products. Think about how you can ask users to grant you the least amount of permissions, and weigh that against everything you can do with them.

Always ask yourself the question: what's the one source of data that makes my app's content interesting?

Do the work for your users, and in turn they'll reap the most immediate rewards. It buys you goodwill, and might stand to help your app find success.

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Hello, I'm Scott Hurff. I've been building Web and mobile products for over 15 years. Follow me on Twitter here, or learn more about me.