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Interview: Every week, 500 people send their secrets to Frank Warren. Here's why.

From peeing in the shower to secretly not loving their wife, PostSecret has become a trove of secrets on the web. Founder Frank Warren, who is speaking in Dublin today, explains why he does it.

Frank Warren
Frank Warren
Image: Pop!Tech via Flickr/Creative Commons

FRANK WARREN IS a collector of secrets.

Every week hundreds of people write, draw, design and decorate their deepest secrets on the backs of postcards and send them anonymously to his house in Maryland, USA. Then, on Sundays, Warren picks his favourites and features them on his site.

Called PostSecret, Warren’s project has spawned more than half a billion hits, five bestselling books, a national and now an international tour.

PostSecret started as an art project in January 2004. Warren, who was working a “monotonous” job as owner of an information retrieval business, printed 3,000 self-addressed postcards and handed them out on the streets of Washington, D.C. The postcards featured a note inviting people to write down a secret and send the postcard back to him. The secret could be anything—as long as it was true and the holder had never shared it with anyone before. Warren was surprised when people actually started sending them.

Today Warren gets around 500 secrets a week to his house at 13345 Copper Ridge Road, Germantown, Maryland. He’s kept every single secret he’s ever gotten, and now a massive pyramid of more than 500,000 postcards dominates the back of his office.

Out of the hundreds only about 20 take a coveted spot on his blog each Sunday. Warren has a tough time putting his selection process into words, but he feels it’s a gut instinct. “I spend hours every week selecting secrets, arranging and rearranging them, trying to tell a story,” he told TheJournal.ie.

The secrets range from serious to silly, from death and divorce all the way through to things like peeing in the shower, which, according to Warren, is a secret he gets all the time. Another common one is loneliness, which he’s seen written in a thousand different ways. And since the economic downturn more and more secrets concern financial struggles.

Warren says the project is therapeutic, both for the people who send in their secrets and the ones who read them. Readers sometimes email him with stories about how the secrets have helped them, and some of these make it onto his blog, too.

Warren claims PostSecret is the most visited advertisement-free blog in the world. It’s even spawned international versions, like PostSecretFrance, PostSecret auf Deutsch and a Norwegian version where the creators illustrate the secrets themselves.

That’s not to say Warren doesn’t make money from it. A few years ago he sold his information retrieval business to work on PostSecret full-time, publishing themed PostSecret books full of his top picks and delivering presentations he calls PostSecret Events, which turn the project’s core idea on its head.

He explains: “Online I created a safe, non-judgmental place where people could share their secrets in a way that wasn’t exploitative. With these events I’ve tried to recreate that but in a social setting, where people can feel free to say the things they never have before in front of strangers, live and in public in a very not anonymous way.”

“When that happens, it’s galvanising. There’s a real energy in the room and it’s very memorable.”

As part of his first UK and Ireland tour Warren will host a PostSecret Event in The Helix at Dublin City University later today.

(All postcard images via PostSecret)

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