When Yik Yak launched in 2013, the anonymous app made waves with its unique mobile offerings and value proposition. It was the 9th most downloaded social media app in 2013. Previously, apps/sites based in anonymity were restricted to desktop computers, like Omegle. Thus, Yik Yak was an unparalleled social media platform. The app created a local social network-based community by allowing users, typically within a 5 mile radius, to communicate with each other and express themselves through Yaks (posts), up/down votes, and comments. Yik Yak became especially popular among community-based areas, like schools and colleges. However, after a strong debut, by 2017, Yik Yak was dead. How could something so widespread die so quickly?
One of Yik Yak’s detrimental pitfalls was its siloed approach towards mobility. Creators found a gap in the market to fill, but did not consider why the gap was empty and how increased mobility could backfire. Yik Yak’s inherent hyper-localized mobility and anonymity created serious problems, fast. Users could post Yaks that included threats or bullying, especially on a large scale, and the anonymity made it nearly impossible to track. Additionally, Yik Yak did not have a clear business plan or revenue stream. The app was not developed to include ads and focused on popularity. Users were rewarded with Yakarma when they posted or commented, but once popularity dwindled, there were no posts or comments for interaction.
Yik Yak needed to take swift action to protect its users and their communities while preserving its business. Instead, Yik Yak disabled its app usage near middle and high schools, alienating a majority of their target users. As the app’s anonymity continued to lead to threats and bullying, the app tested self-moderation. If a potential Yak contained offensive language, a notification appeared asking if the user was certain the post adhered to Yik Yak’s guidelines. When this didn’t work, Yik Yak pivoted to require users to sign in with a permanent username.
Yik Yak’s target user became frustrated with the changes, and rightfully so. The app no longer guaranteed what it was based on: anonymously connecting within your community. This led to the death of Yik Yak, as the app was no longer sustainable and the creators sold its licenses. Yik Yak made two crucial errors: only implementing social listening to avoid legal responsibilities and refusing to understand its space in the market. Truly, Yik Yak’s inability to understand mobility killed the app.
Below are some of Yik Yak’s features, respective downfalls, and potential solutions.