Facebook spent years defining what it means to have an online identity. Now with the surge in popularity of anonymous social apps, Facebook may be spending the next few figuring out how to deal with the complete opposite case.
The social networking giant has expressed interest in exploring how it can develop anonymity services. Secret, one of the latest buzzy social apps, has met with Facebook to discuss how the two companies can work together, according to people familiar with the matter. Details of these discussions were not available and both Facebook and Secret representatives declined to comment on this.
Rumors of a $100 million offer from Facebook to buy Secret that reverberated through Silicon Valley this week were shot down by two people familiar with the social networking giant’s plans.
Facebook has already played around with ways of logging in to Facebook apps anonymously, which would be a big departure from the always-logged-in experience that visiting the Facebook.com site and mobile apps has been traditionally.
This comes at a time when anonymous messaging services have grown more popular. Facebook, Whisper, Secret and others are particularly interested in the types of conversations people feel more liberated to engage in when they no longer need to identify themselves.
That’s attractive for Facebook, which has also tried to mimic the types of conversations found on sites like Reddit or, to some degree, Twitter. But it’s difficult to see how Facebook — a company that has spent a decade building the exact opposite type of anonymous platforms — can accomplish something like this.
Facebook could buy its way into the space. In just the past three months alone, Facebook bought WhatsApp, the massively popular messaging startup, for $19 billion. And only weeks later, Facebook snapped up Oculus — the virtual reality hardware company — for $2 billion. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also tried — and failed — to snap up ephemeral messaging startup Snapchat. Clearly, Zuckerberg has no problem writing big checks for things he wants.
And in a way, it looks as if right now the CEO has the runway to pursue an aggressive acquisitions strategy. Shares of Facebook are up more than 100 percent over the past year, and Wall Street has largely given Facebook’s M&A department carte blanche — especially as the company has articulated a legitimate mobile revenue strategy.
But acquiring a startup like Secret may be out of the picture for now. Secret is still very small, with much of its buzz and activity located inside Silicon Valley. The Los Angeles-based Whisper is focused on building out its content and media-sharing strategy. And neither company has given any indication that they’re willing to sell.
Facebook could also go the way of Twitter or Reddit, allowing people to choose handles to log in to certain apps rather than require an attachment to an existing profile with their real names.
But for now, Facebook is still testing the waters.
Update: This version of the story clarifies the nature of discussions between Facebook and Secret.