When Yik Yak was launched in 2014, it swept across the campuses of US colleges, spreading faster than a disease leading to a zombie apocalypse. Yik Yak’s basic premise was simple: location-based (meaning you could only see messages from people within a ten-mile radius), anonymous gossiping. Sounds a bit obtrusive, doesn’t it? Well, security concerns were the least of the worries of the multitudes of college students who have downloaded Yik Yak and used it on a daily basis, spreading often malevolent campus rumors about their unsuspecting fellow students without any regard to privacy or overall human decency – at least according to Yik Yak’s most avid critics.
According to Yik Yak’s founders, their aim had always been to provide a platform for building a local community, which is a paradox in itself knowing that anonymity was the app’s most crucial and most dominant feature, and last not least the main reason of its sweeping success. Despite a variety of privacy concerns, relentless critics, and the app basically being a hotbed of cyber-bullying, Yik Yak’s success was noticeable: it was funded by Silicon Valley investors and at one point was valued at $400 million.
In an attempt to somewhat tune down the noise surrounding the app, Yik Yak’s founders added handles in March 2016, more commonly known as usernames, to their controversial brainchild. That didn’t help much, because there is literally zero difference between an anonymous bully and a bully hiding behind a username such as “iownu23” reeking from preteen immaturity and an unbearable sense of humor, thus the official worriers knows as critics carried on with their doomsday vision-laden tirades. Some colleges even tried to ban Yik Yak – to no avail.
After the initial hype and media buzz surrounding Yik Yak’s meteoric rise settled down, the app began its long and steady downfall into App Store oblivion. The one thing that separated Yik Yak from Twitter was anonymity, so when an August 2016 update bid farewell to the very feature that helped Yik Yak – at least to a certain extent – stand out from the crowd of social media apps, it really put the final nail in the yak-shaped coffin. The latest update also removed the popular “My Herd” feature, with which you could stay connected to your community even if you wandered away from your campus.
What once was a refreshingly free-spirited app allowing college students to speak their minds without restraint and without having to worry about being one hundred percent politically correct at all times has morphed into a weird concoction of several social media platforms and dating apps, alienating the few faithful users who have stuck with Yik Yak through thick and thin.
The morals of Yik Yak’s story are that you should respect your users by taking their constructive criticism seriously, that reinventing what you have created is imperative to sustained success, that an initial meteoric rise does not make a sustainable business model, and that you should stay true to who you are – even if it means getting a few enemies along the way.