Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

How the world shares its secrets

By Frank Warren, Special to CNN
April 24, 2012 -- Updated 1308 GMT (2108 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Frank Warren started a website that collects secrets mailed to him on postcards
  • He says the site is the most popular ad-free blog
  • When secrets are shared publicly, they can help unite people, he says.
  • Warren: The site has received half a million secrets since its founding in 2004

Editor's note: Frank Warren is the founder of PostSecret www.postsecret.com He spoke at the TED2012 conference last month. TED is a nonprofit organization dedicaated to "Ideas worth spreading," which it makes available through talks posted on its website

(CNN) -- I like to watch Dr. Phil drunk.

Dear Birthmother- I have great parents, I've found love, I'm happy.

Everyone who knew me before 9/11 believes I'm dead.

TED: Half a million secrets

Hundreds of secrets like these arrive in my mailbox every week. They come anonymously on artful postcards from all over the world. In seven years I have received more than a half-million.

I give decaf to customers who are rude to me. [written and mailed on a Starbuck cup]

To the class of 1977, I still hate you all.

I leave poetry behind in library books.

Watch Frank Warren's TED Talk

When I started PostSecret as an art project in 2004, I had no idea that this simple project would turn my life upside-down and offer such a fascinating peek into the rich hidden world that we share but don't talk about.

I printed up 3,000 self-addressed postcards inviting strangers to share an artful secret on a postcard -- something they had never told anyone before -- and mail it to me anonymously.

When they started arriving I began scanning them and posting them on the web. The idea began spreading virally with people buying and making their own postcards. Today www.postsecret.com is the most visited advertisement-free blog in the world with more than 500 million hits.

Most fascinating to me are the stories behind the secrets or the intimate connections that can happen between people when they share secrets.

TED.com: The web's secret stories

When I posted a secret from someone who confesses to thinking about jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge, PostSecret Blog readers sprang to action creating a Facebook group page called, Please Don't Jump. They posted encouraging pictures and shared their own inspiring stories of hope. 60,000 people joined the group in 10 days. The next week the San Francisco City Council proclaimed the first annual "Please Don't Jump Day." Shortly after that the PostSecret community created the most comprehensive directory of suicide prevention hotlines in the world.

Sharing Secrets can be transformative and this project has changed my life. I learned early on that there are two kinds of secrets; the ones we keep from others and the ones we hide from ourselves.

This project has helped me uncover secrets from my past that were haunting me. I have written my secrets on postcards, mailed them to myself, and spoken to my family about them for the first time. I have one of my secrets in every PostSecret book.

The most exciting part of the project for me today is traveling to universities and sharing secrets live. At these PostSecret Events I not only show the most extraordinary secrets in my collection, I also try to create a safe, nonjudgmental social space where students feel comfortable expressing their private secrets publicly.

TED.com: The happy secret to better work

Seeing young people courageously share their vulnerabilities can be highly emotional and meaningful. It reveals a secret about the nature of our secrets: They can be walls that separate us or bridges that unite us depending on the choices we make and the actions we take.

At one PostSecret Event at a large conference in Austin, Texas, called South by Southwest a surprising thing happened. In front of an audience of more than 2,000 people a young man stood and proposed marriage to his girlfriend -- to the delight of the audience. Someone there recorded that special moment on a cell phone and it has been watched over 300,000 times on YouTube.

Perhaps my favorite secret out of the hundreds of thousands I have received was mailed to me on a dollar bill. I carry it in my wallet all the time. It reads:

We are all part of something bigger, and we are all part of it together.

Follow us on Twitter/CNNOpinion

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frank Warren.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT