Kathryn Shaw investigates the internet phenomenon of PostSecret

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I was sitting in a vegan cafe with my friend Angie a little over a year ago the first time I heard about PostSecret. I don’t know why; I’m not a vegan, or a vegetarian, or anything. I think I was trying to be supportive.

Angie casually passed the book across the table, a little smile on his face that I knew meant he was quite pleased with himself: “PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives” by Frank Warren, a compilation of postcards bearing the secrets of ordinary people – some dark, some humorous, some heartwarming, spanning everything from declarations of love to bad habits and all the way to confessions of criminal activity.

PostSecret, Angie told me, is a website set up in January 2005 by Frank Warren in response to a group art project in which he had given blank postcards to 3,000 strangers and invited them to write their secret on the front. The website is similar: people are invited to send in their secrets anonymously on a decorated homemade postcard, with between twenty and forty new secrets being posted every Sunday. The only rules are that the secret must be truthful and must never have been spoken before.

Three books have also been published, containing postcards from the website as well as many which have not been available online. To date the website has received over 62 million hits. I spent an hour engrossed in that book, the forgotten green tea getting gradually colder; Angie was very proud of himself. I laughed. I almost cried. I thought a lot, about a lot of things. I identified with some of those secrets, others I found utterly reprehensible. I was even slightly jealous of some of those people, a little in love with others.

The thing that impacted me the most about the PostSecret book was the realness of it all: every single one of those secrets belonged to an actual person, every single one of those postcards bore a real secret that someone, somewhere had shared for the first time. Hurrying straight to my computer as soon as I got home that day, the website address scrawled onto the back of my hand in Angie’s eyeliner – thank goodness for emo friends – I eagerly browsed the secrets that were posted that day.

Every Sunday since, it has been a compulsion for me to visit the website and read the new secrets. The people that I have spoken to about PostSecret are all agreed on one thing; it compels you to read it. Perhaps it is our inherently voyeuristic nature that keeps me and the thousands of other readers of PostSecret coming back every week. Maybe it is because by sharing our secrets and reading those of others we share a connection with those people; we identify with them. A quote from the book seems to sum this up well: “I never sent in a secret but saw mine on every page”

I asked Angie what he thought, to which he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Everyone has secrets. Sometimes, you can’t tell the people you love your secret. And sometimes, you don’t think you have a secret until you see it written there on someone else’s postcard. ” He wouldn’t tell me his secret, but I know it’s there. It may even be in one of the books, or I may have read it on the website. I wholeheartedly insist that everyone visit the website, read the books, visit one of the travelling exhibitions of postcards – even send in a secret of your own.

I promise you the process will leave you feeling enlightened. http://www. postsecret. com “PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives”, “My Secret: A PostSecret Book”, “The Secret Lives of Men and Women” all available from Harper Collins/Regan Books “Share a Secret”, is an article promoting the website “PostSecret” designed for publication in a women’s magazine such as “Marie Claire”, and so is aimed at young women. The article is designed primarily to inform readers, but also to persuade them to visit the website and to entertain.

I included autobiographical detail of my own experiences and impressions, for example, “I identified with some of those secrets, others I found utterly reprehensible”. This is a particularly useful way of connecting with a female audience, as such readers are usually empathic and open to discussion of emotion. The reader is guided through the article as I incorporated such details in chronological order, starting with my own initial experience of PostSecret.

The tone of the article is informal and familiar, with usage of colloquialisms, emulating a conversation between friends, for example, “And haven’t we all been in the situation of having fantastic news that you can’t tell anyone? ” I adopted this tone to reduce distance between myself and the audience, and to enhance the persuasive element of the text, as the reader may be more likely to take the suggestion to visit the website from a friendly figure.

I intended the headline, “Share a Secret”, to catch the audience’s attention as this contrasts usual behaviour of keeping secrets, and women are often interested by gossip and discovering another’s secrets. As the text should inform the reader, I used a more formal tenor in informative paragraphs as this is more suitable for deliverance of facts, for example, “PostSecret is also heavily involved with Hopeline, a suicide hotline based in the USA”. Sentences in more informative paragraphs are mostly simple and so not disorienting, so information is easily conveyed.

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