An obituary for a social media treasure
College campuses are loved and nostalgically remembered for the sense of community they instill, the cultures they hold and the memories they shape. A modern twist to campus culture was the app formerly known as Yik Yak, an anonymous social message board in which posts within an eight-kilometer radius were thrown together to form a ‘herd’. Posts could be upvoted, downvoted or commented on, much like popular website Reddit. The app had a peak net value of $400 million US and was used heavily at campuses around the globe, including here at StFX over the last three years. While loads of fun was had, Yik Yak had its dark side.
The app received criticisms early on as it enabled online targeted harassing, and this absolutely occurred here. The app’s creators attempted to circumvent this during the summer of 2016 by forcing users to create a personalized handle that would display alongside posts that user made. While this was successful in snuffing out most of the harassment, it also erased the key innovation of Yik Yak, which was its anonymity. The user base quickly declined and eventually a once thriving community had been reduced to a ghost town. Though the changes were later reverted, the community never fully recovered to what it once was.
In April of 2017, Square Inc., a mobile payment company, hired a chunk of Yik Yak’s software engineers. This move effectively sealed the apps’ fate and it was announced on the 28th of April that the Atlanta based company would be shutting down permanently. Yik Yak’s last day of life was May 5th, 2017, after which it ceased to function and could no longer be downloaded. A sad end to a once flourishing social media platform.
While the merits and demerits of Yik Yak can and should be debated, there is no debate as to the impact that Yik Yak had on StFX. Previously students could only anonymously post on the ‘Spotted at StFX’ Facebook page. This page was bottlenecked by the fact that it was operated by one individual on campus that inevitably as admin would know the identities of all “anonymous” posters. Yik Yak gave each of us the ability to instantly interact with the entire campus without having to disclose our identities. Sure, the trolls enjoyed their share of shenanigans, and some individuals were unfairly targeted. That said, you can’t take for granted the power each of us held to interact with our classmates in such a unique way, and it became ingrained in campus life. Meal hall discussions would often involve the top yaks of the day. People would describe anonymously their meal hall crushes, advertise their parties, share noteworthy happenings on campus, and make jokes and friendly shout-outs that only Xaverians would understand. There was the ability to ‘peek’ at other communities and usually here that involved looking at what our axe-wielding rivals were saying that day. It was neat to be up to date on what was happening and have people of all types interacting on one platform cohesively. I can remember laughing so hard at some of the yaks that I was reduced to tears. Some users even asked for and received helpful advice on issues they felt comfortable discussing anonymously.
Currently there are several alternative apps riding the wave of Yik Yaks’ implosion. Jodel is the most similar in functionally, but there are others such as Whisper and Spout. Time will tell if any will succeed Yik Yak on the throne of anonymous campus communication here at StFX.