In November 2004, Frank Warren handed out 3,000 self-addressed postcards to complete strangers on the streets of Washington D.C. They were blank on one side with simple instructions. Thus, the phenomenon known as PostSecret began.
The rest is history - and an online juggernaut that is viewed by 6 million people every month, and still sees hundreds of postcards sent to the creator's door.
If you haven't checked it out - let alone sent one in - you are missing out on anonymous confessions ranging from shocking, to silly, to soulful.
The website has received numerous awards for its community contribution since its inception in 2004, including a special award from the National Mental Health Association for raising awareness and funds for suicide prevention organisations, numerous Webby Awards and the 2012 Weblog of the Year at the Annual Weblog Awards.
On the eve of his first tour of Australia and New Zealand in April, Frank got frank with us yesterday about the life of a secret keeper.
How do you deal with being the keeper of so many peoples' secrets? Is seems like it would be a bit of a burden, do you see it that way?
I think it can get heavy at times, because pretty much every day for eight years, I've read heavy secrets from strangers; along with joyful ones and funny ones, but every day they're heavy, too, and so that can be challenging.
I would say overall, though, I feel very fortunate that so many strangers have trusted me with their deepest confessions. And that relationship, if you want to call it that, is really gratifying for me and something that I don't take for granted.
What were you doing before you started PostSecret?
I had a small business called Instant Information Systems that I ran for twenty years, but a few years ago I was able to sell it, and now I spend forty to fifty hours a week on secrets!
You've said that maybe part of the reason you started PostSecret was because you were struggling with some of your own secrets. How did gathering and sharing the secrets of others help you in that situation?
It's a complicated answer. I talk about that in my talk a little bit. I will just say that, in my own life, I was struggling with secrets I was keeping from myself, and through PostSecret, I've been able to uncover some of the deep secrets that had been haunting me. And so, in some ways, even though I didn't know it at the time, I might have started PostSecret as a way to find some healing for myself as well.
I have one of my secrets in every book, actually.
Do you have any favourites earmarked or any who have had the most impact on you? Do many secrets that you read influence how you live your life?
Well it's funny, because pretty much every hour of every day, I'm reminded of a secret I have read. So, uh, I would say ten minutes ago - maybe this is too much information - but I was using a restroom, and I was reminded of a secret I received from somebody who said "When I'm using the toilet, and you walk in and I act surprised that I left the door unlocked, I really did it on purpose." (laughs) So that's the latest one I was reminded of! I've gotta say, I like that one.
But it's interesting, seriously, after reading that secret, now, whenever that happens, I wonder, you know - did the person leave the door open on purpose and are they just acting surprised?
That is a good one! Are people you know more open to you in real life, because you're the online secret-keeper?
(laughs) You would think so, but not really. Not in my life as Frank Warren. But when I go to a PostSecret event, for sure. I think people sometimes project the project onto me in a way that...I mean, it can be very challenging sometimes when people kind of personify me as the project, because I think people feel very strongly about PostSecret and their relationship to it, and it can be very difficult to maintain that if they really project to much about that onto me. But having said all that, I will say that at PostSecret events, when I'm signing books, people will come up and tell me a secret or hand me a postcard, so it is nice to be able to represent the project that way.
How has the internet changed Post Secret? It's huge online - do you still get as many physical postcards as you used to?
Well it's still coming consistently, but I probably don't get as much as I did maybe four or five years ago. But hundreds a week, so plenty for the website.
I would say that PostSecret as it is today wouldn't have been possible without the web, and the ability for an everyday person like me to share art and messages and secrets and stories with literally millions of people around the world for free, it's something very extraordinary, that I think it's going to change the world, and it's never been possible before, but I'm really excited to see where it goes.
That is extraordinary. Do you have any ideas about where it might go?
Well, I'll tell you one place it's taking me. It's taking me to Australia and New Zealand!
It sure is! Are you looking forward to it?
Absolutely, I've never been to Australia or New Zealand before and I'm thrilled to come out and talk about secrets, to share the stories behind them and listen to audience members' secrets, and tell stories from the books that were banned by the publisher.
It's going to be very exciting for me, and I can't wait to bring it out there. I know some of the events are sold out but I hope there are still some tickets left, because I don't know when I'll be able to get back again, and I'm pretty sure it's going to be special. I hope people can make it.
And I think, too, the internet lends itself to that. With the web, everything is piratable, whether it's a book, or a movie, or music; but live events are always going to be special. You can't copy that. You can't reproduce that energy. And with PostSecret events, that's one time that it happens, and then it's gone, and for the people who are there it's great to share it.
Finally - where do all those postcards go?
I keep them in Post Secret Headquarters. That's one secret I'll have to keep from you! (laughs) But they all come to my home, and I read every secret, and I keep every postcard.
Frank Warren’s PostSecret Australian Tour 2013
WHEN: April 12
WHERE: Skycity Theatre, Auckland