New app gives UW-W students anonymous outlet

Oct. 15, 2014

By Emily Leclair

 

The Yik Yak app has taken over the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with 1,486 active users as of Oct. 1. Three weeks earlier, it only had 203 users.

Yik Yak gives students a chance to connect with each other anonymously in a matter of seconds.

Freshman Riley Harding found out about the app through his friends, and he  said he uses the app all the time.

“It’s funny because it’s inappropriate,” Harding said of the Yaks he reads posted by UW-W students. “I like (Yik Yak) because it is anonymous.”

The app was born at Furman University by co-founders Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, who were students at the time. They didn’t like the fact that there were only a few Twitter accounts for students to express themselves on campus, so the idea of Yik Yak began to grow.

Yik Yak allows students to post statuses about what is currently happening on campus, or what they are feeling. There are no usernames so every post is anonymous.

Droll is the technical co-founder, while Buffington is the non-technical co-founder, and is the one behind the famous yak head that spins while the app is loading. Buffington was attending Furman University for art, so when it came time to come up with a mascot for the app, he drew a yak head and it stuck.

“We love the yak,” Cam Mullen, lead community developer at Yik Yak, said. “It’s kind of taken on its own personality as Yik Yak has grown.”

Droll initially planned on calling the app Chatter, but one night at dinner, Droll’s mother suggested the name Yik Yak, and the rest is history according to Mullen.

The app officially hit the iTunes app store on Nov. 6, 2013, but no one really knew about it because they didn’t have a marketing budget to get word out about the app at that time.

Initially, Yik Yak was only targeted toward fraternities and sororities at different colleges in the southeast.

The app started to spread from its birthplace at Furman University, to schools like the University of Alabama.

Yik Yak really began to grow during the spring semester of last year, according to Mullen.

At the end of last year, Auburn University was the largest student body currently using the Yik Yak app, along with schools like the University of Florida.

The app is not available everywhere you go. Once a user is on the grounds of a high school or middle school, the app is no longer available, due to the fact that the content the younger students were posting was not what the Yik Yak team wanted to be spread.

Users are given the option to click the up arrow on a Yak or click a down arrow if they don’t like the Yak. After a Yak gets five down arrows, the Yak is removed.

There is a full-time moderation team at the Yik Yak headquarters, located in Atlanta, Georgia.

“We want to make sure the experience is as positive and the content is as good as possible,” Mullen said. “We need to make the good things rise to the top and the bad things go away.”

Users also have the option to report a Yak if they find it offensive or inappropriate.

The moderation team is also in charge of monitoring the content that pertains to bullying or harassment. If a user is reported, they can be indefinitely blocked from using the app.

“We found that as communities get bigger and bigger and more diverse, they actually become a lot better at carrying and keeping the feed healthy,” Mullen said.

The main reason Droll and Buffington created Yik Yak was they wanted to give students a voice and be able to do it anonymously.

“What we really love about Yik Yak is that it provides an open forum and gives a voice to those kind of people who might not otherwise have one,” Mullen said. “The quiet kid in the back of the classroom might be the funniest kid in the school, it’s just they may be too shy to put themselves out there in person.”

When asked if the Yik Yak team uses the app, Mullen said, “We Yak all day, every day.”

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