What happened to Yik Yak?

  • Yik Yak is a social media smartphone app that was launched in 2013 by Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington. The company was valued at $400 million in 2014 but was shut down less than three years later.
  • Yik Yak was immensely popular with school and college-age students, which meant it was frequently associated with cyberbullying and threats of violence. Once functionality was disabled on school grounds, the app experienced a catastrophic decline in users.
  • Belated attempts to make the app more safe and user-friendly could not stop it from being shut down in May 2017. The new and improved app then re-appeared in August 2017, though it remains associated with cyberbullying.

Origin Story

Yik Yak is a social media smartphone app that was launched in 2013 by Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington. The platform allows users to post anonymous messages, or yaks, to other users within a five-mile radius. Reactions to these messages can then be upvoted or downvoted in a similar system to the one employed on Reddit.

Yik Yak enjoyed a period of tremendous growth during 2013 and 2014, with the app particularly popular with school and college-age students. After a successful round of funding in 2014, the company was valued at $400 million and the app had been downloaded almost 2 million times.

Three short years later, however, Yik Yak announced it would be closing down the app due to poor user engagement.

What went wrong?

Cyberbullying

Given its popularity with the younger demographic, it is perhaps no surprise that Yik Yak was frequently associated with cyberbullying.

In 2014, a Massachusetts school was forced to evacuate twice after receiving bomb threats through the app. Several other educational institutions were forced to close under similar circumstances, with one individual threatening to carry out a mass shooting and another threatening violence against minority groups.

The very design of the app also contributed to the problem. Cyberbullying victims knew that the person or people wishing to do them harm were in close proximity. What’s more, cyberbullies could operate on Yik Yak with far more anonymity than they could on Facebook or Twitter and were subject to little or no moderation.

Unsustainable business model and mismanagement

In response to pressure from the media and various social groups, Yik Yak prevented its users from using the app while at school. 

Though the measure reduced instances of bullying, the decision resulted in a significant decline in popularity among the app’s student-centric user base. In other words, Yik Yak was most useful in scenarios commonly found in schools where:

  • Large amounts of people are concentrated in a single area.
  • Students who belong to the same institution share and discuss things they have in common.
  • Anonymity is preferred when voicing an opinion in public.

By 2016, downloads had decreased by 76% compared to the previous year.

Shutdown and Square acquisition

Yik Yak decision-makers attempted to make the app more user-friendly by requiring users to have a username, profile photo, and undergo phone verification.

Their efforts were in vain, however, and the platform was shut down in May 2017.

Fintech giant Square then acquired several Yik Yak engineers and the rights to some of the company’s intellectual property for the paltry sum of $1 million.

Relaunch 

On August 15, 2021, Yik Yak announced a comeback, with the app once again available for download.

The reincarnated app shared many similarities with the discontinued version while placing more emphasis on user safety and stringent community guidelines. Despite these initiatives, the app continues to be plagued by cyberbullying. 

Oklahoma Christian University is one example of an educational institution banning the new app after discovering it was once again being used to target others.

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