|Created by||Tyler Droll, Brooks Buffington|
|Key people||Tyler Droll (CEO)
Brooks Buffington (COO)
|Current status||App and network no longer available|
|Written in||Java, Objective-C|
Yik Yak was a social media smartphone application that was launched in 2013. It was available for iOS and Android and it allowed people to create and view discussion threads within a 5-mile (8 km) radius (termed "Yaks" by the application). It was similar to other anonymous sharing apps such as Nearby, but differed from others such as Whisper in that it was intended for sharing primarily with those in proximity to the user. All users had the ability to contribute to the stream by writing, responding, and "voting up" or "voting down" (liking or disliking) yaks.
The co-founders, Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, are both graduates from Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. The two started collaborating when they were placed into the same class where they learned how to code iPhone apps. After graduating from Furman University, they decided to go full-time with their project. Droll dropped out of medical school just before it started and Buffington put his finance career on hold. The two, together with Will Jamieson, released the app in November 2013, and twelve months later, Yik Yak was ranked as the ninth most downloaded social media app in the United States. Improvements on the Yik Yak app continued throughout 2015, including measures to ensure its sustainability. The last major change was the announcement on January 20, 2016 that a web version of the app was available. Attempts were made in 2015 to reduce its use for cyberbullying, such as the new mandatory use of handles (later reverted to an optional feature) and removal of the "My Herd" feature (also was later reverted).
On April 28, 2017, Yik Yak announced it would be shutting down. This followed months of rumors among the app's users about a potential shutdown. The declining popularity of the app had become very noticeable, and the app ceased to function as of May 5, 2017. The popularity decline was likely caused by the temporary enforcement of mandatory handles and a smaller part the removal of the "My Herd" feature. These changes were known amongst the users as the primary reasons for the decline, while news articles made the assumption (without investigative work[neutrality is disputed]) that it was due to cyberbullying.
Yik Yak was originally funded by Atlanta Ventures with offices based in the Atlanta Tech Village. On April 22, 2014, the company announced that it had secured $1.5 million in funding from various companies such as Vaizra Investments, DCM, Kevin Colleran, and Azure Capital Partners. This funding came five months after Yik Yak was founded, and was intended both to enhance the app, and to market the app both in the United States and overseas. On June 30, 2014, a little over two months after the initial $1.5 million, Yik Yak secured $10 million more from its previous investors, together with new investors Renren Lianhe Holdings and Tim Draper. During the fall of 2014, with exponential user growth Yik Yak secured over $60 million from Sequoia Capital and other investors. Less than one year after its launch, Yik Yak then had a valuation of over $350 million. On May 5, 2017, the application servers and website went offline, and the application became defunct.
- Yakarma: Yakarma was a numerical score generated by the software that aimed to measure the active success of a user. The number increased and decreased based upon the responses to their yaks by other proximate users.. Yakarma changed depending on the number of downvotes or upvotes, replies, and comments that were made on a user's post. Receiving downvotes negatively affected a user's Yakarma, while upvotes increased it. The exact effect on yakarma was determined by the status (yakarma) of the voting user.
- Upvote/Downvote: Up and down votes were essentially user ratings on a given yak. For a post to become popular it had to receive more upvotes than downvotes, at which time it displayed a positive number next to it. If votes on a post reached a value of -5, it was permanently deleted.
- Peek: The "peek" feature allowed users to anonymously view other Yik Yak community feeds. Initially, the only other areas users could “Peek” into were US and International colleges. With the October 20, 2014 app update, users were able to Peek into any college or city in the world. When users viewed other Yik Yak feeds, they could see other user's posts but could not vote or post into that community. Users could only post in their local Yik Yak community.
- Other Top Yaks: This simply showed the google image result page from searching the word "yak". Usually just pictures of yaks (the animal).
- Photos: This feature allowed users to include pictures in their yaks. The company indicated that uploaded photos were moderated and that no inappropriate content, illegal content, or faces were allowed in local feeds. More specifically, photo collections displayed a grid of popular photographs submitted from anyone in the specified location.
- Hidden Features: Yik Yak also contained a word filter. When a post contained threatening or offensive language, the app would remind the user that their post could be offensive, and asked them if they still wished to post it. If the user bypassed the warning, the post would then be flagged and subject to removal by moderators. Posts that contained phone numbers could not be posted.
One of the biggest criticisms of social media sites and applications is their inherent potential to feed the growing amount of cyberbullying. Due to the widespread bullying and harassment committed through Yik Yak, many schools and school districts took action to ban the app. These included several Chicago school districts, Norwich University in Vermont, Eanes Independent School District in Texas, Lincoln High School district in Rhode Island, New Richmond School District in Ohio, Shawnigan Lake School in Canada and Pueblo County School District in Colorado. Tatum High School in New Mexico banned cell phone use from the school due to Yik Yak, and the Student Government Association at Emory University in Georgia attempted to ban the app across campus, but failed to do so after immense backlash from students.
On May 13, 2015, Santa Clara University President Father Michael Engh released a statement to all students after several racist remarks were posted on Yik Yak. He wrote, “Hate speech, not to be confused with free speech, has no place at Santa Clara University, because it violates the dignity and respect with which each member of our community is entitled to be treated. Hurtful comments directed at individuals or groups diminish us all and create a divisive atmosphere of distrust and suspicion.” This highlights the ethical controversy of cyberbullying and racism within the social media app.
On October 3, 2014, The Huffington Post published an editorial by Ryan Chapin Mach titled "Why Your College Campus Should Ban Yik Yak," which asserted that Yik Yak's anonymous messaging boards "are like bathroom stalls without toilets. They're useless, they're sources of unhelpful or harmful conversations, and they're a complete eyesore."
To remedy the cases of bullying in middle and high schools around the country, Droll and Buffington amended the application to include geofences that work in the background. These unseen fences disable the application within their defined borders. At first these boundaries were installed manually by the developers, but it quickly became clear they would need outside assistance. They found this assistance in a Vermont-based company known as Maponics. Maponics “builds and defines geographic boundaries.” They happened to already have nearly 85% of the country’s high schools mapped, making it easy to block access to Yik Yak in those areas. The fences disabled the app on all middle and high school grounds throughout the country. If the app is opened within one of these areas the user is displayed a message along the lines of: “it looks like you’re trying to use Yik Yak on a middle school or high school grounds. Yik Yak is intended for people college-aged and above. The app is disabled in this area.”
The frequency of bullying and harassment that happened on Yik Yak might have been exaggerated by media stories citing specific incidents. Researchers have identified how Yik Yak is mostly used as a positive way to explore racial, ethnic, and sexual identities and to build a sense of community on campus. Others have identified how Yik Yak gives marginalized students a voice on campus.
In 2015, Yik Yak gained attention by being the subject of preventing a suicide attempt at the College of William and Mary. Yik Yak has been praised and criticized regarding preventing suicide. On one hand, it gives people an outlet to share what they are thinking and in many cases they receive support to seek help. On the other hand, due to its anonymity the ability for others to help is limited. There has been controversy over the legality of its anonymity and what role Yik Yak should play in sharing that information.
In December 2014, security researchers discovered and demonstrated a potential attack on the service, where a Yik Yak user could have their account compromised and be deanonymised (having their identity revealed) if an attacker was using the same WiFi network.
In February 2015, Yik Yak was exposed for systematically downvoting and deleting posts that mention competitors. The automatic system downvoted and deleted any posts that contained words that associated with names of other apps used by university students, including "fade," "unseen," "erodr," and "sneek." The downvoting algorithm, which assigned downvotes on regular intervals until the posts were deleted, appeared to be designed to mislead users to thinking that their posts were unpopular amongst peers, rather than censored by Yik Yak itself.
In December 2015, the SLOG and the Seattle Times reported that a Western Washington University student had been arrested and released on bail after calling for the lynching of the student body president of the university. The racist threats were posted on Yik Yak.
During 2016, use of Yik Yak declined severely, by 76% over 2015. This limited its former projected growth potential, and in December 2016, Yik Yak laid off 60 percent of its workers. Based on a report by The Verge, the community, marketing, design, and product teams were all deeply affected. In addition to the aforementioned manipulation of content by corporate, the presence of extensive cyberbullying on the site was a primary cause of this decline in usage. However, TechCrunch pointed out that "any forum offering users anonymity and a means of chatting" would have the potential to be "plagued by cyberbullies."
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Yik Yak is an anonymous messaging app that allows users to create and view posts – called Yaks – within a 5 mile radius.
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