Wickr email app: military-grade, secure, biodegradable, and completely useless?

[ Note: I've done a follow-up interview with Wickr. See that here. ]

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always wanted “secure, military-grade communications.” Not that I want to do anything mind-bogglingly stupid, Anthony Wiener-style, or that I’m planning the imminent violent overthrow of Western civilization.

I want it mainly just because it sounds cool.

That’s the promise of new iPhone app Wickr, which says that “the internet is forever, but your data doesn’t have to be.” The company’s slogan is “Leave No Trace.”

Well, never fear, because I’ve deleted the app from my phone. How’s that for no trace?

I was fairly excited at first: Totally secure, completely private, and I can erase my own emails on your device. I imagined setting an autodestruct for 10 seconds, sending a friend a 10-page treatise on the mating habits of Visayan warty pigs, and then laughing uncontrollably.

Juvenile, I know.

Above: Robert Statica, co-founder

But that’s what the words “military grade” and “tactical” do to men: They make them stupid.

Wickr, of course, is made by seriously smart people. Security guru Dan Kaminsky served as an advisor to the team, Forbes tells us breathlessly. Cofounder Robert Statica is the director of the center for information protection at New Jersey Institute of Technology. He even has good reviews on RateMyProfessor, although his profile pic might be a little “The Silence of the Lambs” for some.

But there’s one small fly in this ointment of bursting intelligence.

The app only works if you’re sending email to people who already have a Wickr account. Which means that the first day you get this app, it is completely and utterly useless. To bring back an old network-effects example, it’s like having precisely one fax machine. Uno. Eins. Un.

I guess you could email yourself.

Wickr says the app is in use by many people in many different walks of life: “reporters, sources, senators, cops, freedom fighters, doctors, patients, lawyers, bankers, military, intel, boards, billionaires, celebs and college students.”

Above: No email for you!

And I have no doubt that if I was a billionaire, I’d probably be able to force all my business associates, friends, and family to use whatever bloody email software I want, dammit.

But how on earth as a journalist can I ask my sources to not email me, not phone me, not Skype me, but instead have an iPhone, find an app, download it, create an account, connect with me, and then (and only then) communicate with me.

Not likely.

Of course, I may be completely wrong (and I know I can count on all of you tell me just how wrong I am, in the comments).

Nico Sell, one of Wickr’s cofounders, responded to my emailed request for more information about how, precisely, the company was going to get scale, go big, and make the app useful for the first-time user.

“You must invite your friends to make it useful. This is why it is viral. Remember, though, it is a free app that just takes a minute to set up with an easy invite feature.”

And maybe I’m all wet. Wickr seems to be doing something right. Sell continued, saying:

“We are already seeing a hockey stick growth curve. Wickr is currently the 16th most popular social app right after Google+ and before FourSquare and Bump! People are going crazy for Wickr.”

That is astonishing. My curmudgeonly take? It’s temporary — due to a major publicity push — and will not last. My bet is that people use email for too many things and too many people to switch just for a few private messages to one particular app — especially with no Android version (yet) and no desktop app.

Am I wrong?

Sell’s email, by the way, is still in my inbox. I think I’ll keep it there for a while…just as long as I want to.

For those who are interested, here’s a visual tour through Wickr, right from the start:

[vb_gallery id=481685]

Image credit: Vault/ShutterStock

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