Yik Yak was a smartphone application which allowed people to create and read discussion threads within a five-mile radius. The application quickly gained popularity – enjoying particular success at both University campuses and school districts. The venture secured over $70million in funding too. Yet despite their early success, the application was shut down after four years, with the company following suit. In this article, we take a look at the story of Yik Yak, and analyse what went wrong.
Yik Yak was launched in 2013 by co-founders Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington. The duo had recently graduated from Furman University in South Carolina, USA. Both knew how to write code for applications, and eventually decided to go full-time with the Yik Yak project following University. The application attracted funding from Atlanta Ventures pre-start-up, and had offices in the sought-after Atlanta Tech Village. The duo and their team would spend twelve months preparing the application.
The application worked in a similar way to other apps like Whisper and Nearby. Users could post a discussion thread, where other users could in turn downvote or upvote them. The popularity of each user was measured, dependent on the number of up or downvotes they received. These threads were visible in the immediate five-mile radius. Later features included the ability to ‘peek’ at discussions in other communities outside their five-mile radius. The application would prove to be very popular in close-knit communities like University campuses and schools.
The application was eventually released in November 2013, available on both iOs and Android. The popularity of the app gradually rose. By April 2014, investment into Yik Yak had risen to around $70million. The funding was used to help boost advertising. By the autumn of 2014, the well-renowned Sequoia Capital invested too. Within a year of starting-up, the company had a valuation of around $350million. By the end of 2014, Yik Yak was the ninth most downloaded social media application in the United States.
However, their success didn’t last. Yik Yak was heavily criticised in the media due to its propensity to provide a platform for cyber-bullying. Several schools and school districts banned the application as a response. Hate speech was frequent on the application too, while gun and bomb threats were frequently made, leading to multiple arrests. Yik Yak faced subsequent allegations of not being complicit with investigations. Due to the increased backlash against the application, the business needed to take steps to remedy the damage.
Yik Yak’s first step was to block access to the application in school areas. This blocked a significant amount of users from using the application. A further step as taken which forced users to have online handles instead of being able to post anonymously. The ability to post anonymously was originally seen as one of the big draws of the application. The application was also criticised for down-voting users and deleting posts that mentioned competitors. These different measures affected the popularity of Yik Yak.
The application lost an estimated 76% of use in 2015 when compared to 2014. There was a mass staff redundancy in December 2016. Yik Yak eventually shut down in May 2017. Some engineers and intellectual property were sold to Square Inc. for $1million. The founders posted a good-bye note, which thanked their users for making their journey possible. Both Droll and Buffington remain active in other ventures, and deserve praise for how quickly they built a hugely-popular application.
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Yik Yak had a profound effect on many student’s college or University life. It was a key component of many campuses. But like many other anonymous-user applications before it, it fell victim to cyber-bullying. Yik Yak was never able to recover from the changes it made to its application, rapidly losing its customer base. While the application provided the latest happenings to countless people, its model was simply unsustainable.