March 24, 2015
Yik Yak
Posted by Usha Rodrigues

As promised, the Yik Yak founders spoke at UGA yesterday. For those of you not in the know, Yik Yak allows users to post ("yak") anonymously in a 1.5-mile radius.

Coincidentally, the app had made the news on UGA just last week, for unfortunate reasons.  Last Thursday night an undergraduate was found dead in her dorm room, apparently for still unexplained health reasons.  While any loss of young life is sad, this particular student sounds like a really exceptional person.  If you read the linked article, you will see that a racist idiot posted something offensive on Yik Yak as news of the student's death was unfolding.  Institutional reaction was swift, and UGA's President decried the post.

So Yik Yak's founders walked into a charged atmosphere last night, to say the least.  Honestly, we discussed canceling the talk, but felt that it would be good for us as a community to discuss the role of apps like Yik Yak on campus.  A third-year student served as moderator and--in a "meta" move I lobbied heavily for--we took questions from the audience via Yik Yak. More on that in a separate post.  Here are some highlights of what the founders had to say:

  • They very much positioned themselves as just like the college students in the crowd.  Tyler and Brooks started the app because wanted to give everyone an equal voice on campus--an equal chance to have their content spread. They painted college life as the ideal place for the young entrepreneur: no job, food and housing are taken care of, and you have an "awesome" group of beta users--the people you live with.  Just cut out some partying, Netflix, or Chipotle, and you have time to launch a business!
  • They said that bullying and racism were terrible, and that they are always updating filters to prevent it.  The UGA bomb threat I blogged about in my first post was their first "big incident," and now if you want to yak something that the app deems dangerous a pop up will say, "Are you sure you want to post this?  Yik Yak and law enforcement take this very seriously."
  • On the racism/bullying/sexism front, Tyler and Brooks made the argument that Yik Yak offers a far more efficient response than Twitter or Facebook.  With those services you have to go through an "arduous" reporting process.  On Yik Yak, if 5 people downvote the post, it's gone.  I'll note that, based on the screenshot, last week's racist comment received 4 negative votes within 39 seconds of being posted.  Presumably it disappeared soon after, once it got the 5th vote.  Honestly, to me as a minority teaching in a school in the deep South, the story is a positive one for Georgia.  There are going to be jerks everywhere, and anonymity makes it easier for them to express themselves.  But our community responded immediately and negatively to that horrible yak, and it disappeared quickly. 
  • How is Yik Yak going to raise money?  A popular question, and the founders answer was that they were focusing on trying to grow the user base right now.  "After that, shame on us if we can't figure out how to make money."  Hmm, I'm not sure about that business plan, boys.  But I'm not really the target demographic (or am I?  Tune in tomorrow for more).
  • Their advice to budding entrepreneurs: start simple and see what works.  They had a nice story about spending 14 months designing an app that no one used and went nowhere.  In contrast, Tyler threw together the first Yik Yak in a day and a half. 
  • Oh, as you redeem the Yakarma points you rack up using the app for Yak swag on the Yak campus tour.  Apparently the socks are very popular.

Here's the local paper's coverage.

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