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
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1252 GMT (2052 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 2323 GMT (0723 HKT)
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT