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
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1626 GMT (0026 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT