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This article was published on August 17, 2021

A brief history of YikYak — the anon platform making its return

It's back!

A brief history of YikYak — the anon platform making its return
Ivan Mehta
Story by

Ivan Mehta

Ivan covers Big Tech, India, policy, AI, security, platforms, and apps for TNW. That's one heck of a mixed bag. He likes to say "Bleh." Ivan covers Big Tech, India, policy, AI, security, platforms, and apps for TNW. That's one heck of a mixed bag. He likes to say "Bleh."

Yik Yak is back! If you don’t know what it is, I don’t blame you. It was an anonymous gossip platform that had some success, but after running into moderation problems and failing to deal with problematic content, it was shut down in 2017.

The company announced on Twitter that it’s making a comeback with an iOS app. But before we get into that, let’s take a look at the brief history of the social network.

How did it start?

Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, graduates of Furman University, South Carolina started this project as a hobby. In 2013, they officially released the app that let you create anonymous threads called “Yaks.” Users within five miles of the created Yak could participate in the discussion participate in the discussion. The idea was to let university students gossip about their peers.

What features did it have?

One of the most important features of the app was called Yakarama. It was a score based on upvotes on your Yaks and replies. You can think of it as an equivalent of the Reddit karma score.

Initially, after letting you view Yaks from your locality, the app added a map functionality so that you could see threads from elsewhere.

In 2016, it added a profile option that let you choose a handle, and even write a bio. But you could still select a handle and picture to hide your identity, but still have some flair.

What was the controversy around it?

The anonymous nature of Yik Yak made it easy for users to post racist, abusive, and problematic content without any restrictions. Because of the concerns about cyberbullying, several schools and colleges in the US tried to ban the app or use of phones within the premises. These institutions even instructed parents to make sure that the app is not on their children’s phones.

In 2014, security researchers also warned users about a bug that could use a Wi-Fi network to deanonymize a user.

The shutdown

By 2016, the popularity of the app had decreased drastically by 76% year-on-year. That year in December, the company laid off 60% of its staff.

In April 2017, the app finally shut down, and Square purchased some of its IP and hired a few employees from the company.

The return

As noted earlier, Yik Yak has made a return for iOS users in the US, with a promise for an Android version and global expansion later.

We don’t really know much about its new makers, but on its site, they said that they “purchased the rights to redevelop the Yik Yak app from an original maker in February 2021.”

The new app has sections addressing issues like bullying, sexual consent, and COVID-19. However, there’s no specific guidelines on misinformation. The app‘s site notes that “We’re committed to combating bullying and hate speech” by “any means necessary.” But that’s what all social media companies say, don’t they?

The new app also has downvotes, and any Yak with more than five downvotes will be automatically removed.

However, large platform such as Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram have had their struggles with moderation. So an anonymous platform like Yik Yak will need to plunge in a lot of resources to make it safe.

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