(Pocket-lint) - If you look at any random grouping of teenagers or university-age students, you'll likely notice them nose-deep in their shiny smartphones, silent and tapping away. If you look really close, whilst trying to avoid being a creeper, you'll also see they aren't numbing their malleable brains with Vine, Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat. They're doing it with Yik Yak.
Yik Yak is the latest app to become a popular hit among youngsters in Silicon Valley, US-based college campuses, and even the UK. The app, which The Guardian has described as "the hottest messaging app in the world", launched in November 2013. It most recently made headlines after raising a whopping $62 million funding round. Yeah. Impressive.
You now might be asking yourself: "What's Yik Yak about?". Anonymity, of course.
Yik Yak has been dubbed a digital "bathroom stall wall", in which people can anonymously write anything. They can write rude things, if they want, and other users can see those posts and upvote or downvote them (similar to Reddit). Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington are 23-year-old graduates, and they developed Yik Yak with just one feature in mind: yaks.
Keep reading to learn more about yaks and how the entire Yik Yak app works.
How does Yik Yak work?
Download Yik Yak. It's a free app for Android and iOS. When you open Yik Yak for the first time, you must give it permission to use your location and show posts from other users in your area.
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Right off the bat, you'll notice Yik Yak gives you 100 "yakarma" points. The more you engage with the app, such as writing posts, which are known as "yaks", the more yakarma points you get. To be clear: Yaks are like Facebook statuses or tweets. Any Yik Yak user can upvote or downvote your yak, and you can do the same to them. You can also reply to users, and all of these type of activities gain you yakarma points.
To see a steady stream of yaks from your area, go to the Home tab. The first stream in the Home tab shows all new yaks. Simply pull down on the New stream to refresh it and see the latest yaks. Toggle over to the Hot section to see the most popular yaks around you.
Tap the draft symbol at the top of the Home tab to post a yak. A new page will pop, where you can say what's on your mind. You can also add a handle you want to use for that specific yak. So, you can write: "Hi, I'm new here", along with a handle like "newguy" or whatever.
Once you post that yak, you will get yakarma points. The yak will also appear at the top of the New stream. If you immediately want to delete the yak you just posted, swipe from right on the yak to see more options like delete, share, and yak back (reply). Got it? Good. Now let's move on.
If it's your first time posting a yak, you will see a list of rules, which includes a warning against cyber-bullying, specifically targeting other yakkers (aka other users), and posting offensive yaks. Yik Yak supposedly has a zero-tolerance policy about posting people's private information, and it allows you to report such yaks. If your yaks are continually reported, you will be suspended.
Voting is simple. When looking at your streams, simply click the up or down arrow next to any yak to respectively upvote or downvote that yak. You can rest assure that everything is anonymous, so you can vote and yak back without any repercussion (as long as you follow the rules).
To see streams not in your area, simply tap the Peek tab. Yik Yak loads the Peek tab with content-specific streams, such as Things You Wish You Could Put On A Resume, as well as streams nearby college campuses like University of Kentucky, University of Notre Dame, and so forth. You can even search for streams. When peeking at these other streams, you can't engage with yakkers by voting up or down and yakking back.
One of the four tabs featured in the menubar along the bottom of Yik Yak is called Me. Navigate to this section whenever you want to see your notifications and things like all your yaks, replies, top yaks, and even settings options like the ability to turn on double-tap for upvoting or syncing via iCloud. In other words: You can consider this section to be like a notification and settings hub.
The last tab in Yik Yak's main menubar is called More. You can go here to see all-time greatest yaks and top yaks in your area. It also has options to contact the Yik Yak team, see rules and information, and more.
Basecamp is Yik Yak’s newest beta feature. It's designed to let college students stay in touch with their college friends while they're away from college, say, for summer vacation. To set up Basecamp, click Set Your Basecamp from the main feed, which will take you to a screen where you can set your Basecamp community. You can only set your Basecamp once.
Once you’re set up, you’ll be able to switch between posting to your current local feed (where you can share with those around you) or your Basecamp (where you can yak with, vote on, and reply to your friends in another place). Basecamp is a beta feature Yik Yak is trying out for a limited time, due to requests from Yakkers who are leaving college for summer but want to stay connected.
Why is Yik Yak so popular?
Yik Yak is growing on a daily basis and is currently active at more than 1,000 colleges and universities worldwide. It is popular first and foremost because it's unlike anything else available. Although it is similar to websites like Topix or Reddit in that it's a social forum, Yik Yak limits user interactions to within a 1.5 mile radius (so it can be used to discover events nearby). Yaks also only have a lifespan of 100 days before expiring.
Yik Yak is therefore ephemeral, much like Snapchat, but it has nothing to do with messaging or photos or networking or friendships. It's strictly about relevant, timely, and localised content. And if that's not addicting enough, the pressure of getting a high yakarma score can also suck competitive people into the whole experience. But none of this has anything to do with why Yik Yak is on it's way to becoming the next big thing.
Controversy is at the heart of its recent, rapid growth.
How did Yik Yak become so controversial?
Going back to the digital bathroom wall stall metaphor for a moment, Yik Yak is controversial because people sometimes use it to anonymously post offensive yaks. It's like when you go into a pub bathroom and end up reading the crude scribblings on the walls. You don't know who wrote the stuff in the first place, but it's still fun to read and laugh at, even if the messages clearly name and makes fun of others.
Yik Yak states that bullying and such behaviour is against the rules and can result in suspension, but since the app is anonymous, people can easily regain access and continue posting offensive yaks. Many publications, including The Huffington Post, The Chronicle’s Wired Blog, and Inside Higher Ed, have written about situations in which people used Yik Yak to spread racist messages or physically threaten others.
Yik Yak has become a hot bed of posts about violence, sex crimes, and hate crimes. It's even unwittingly helped distribute more outrageous things like a sex tape and mass shooting threats. It's important to remember however that any app or social media service, which lets users and commenters post anonymously, has the potential for cyberbullying. Yik Yak has also recognised the problem and is responding accordingly.
Yik Yak has geofenced all high schools in the US, for instance, thus stopping impressionable students from using the app while in school. Yik Yak also removes posts that reach a certain negative rating and considers this an "effective method of community self-policing". Yik Yak told The Guardian it removes the majority of posts with racist, homophobic, or generally abusive content, and there is the ability to flag or report a yak.
The app currently has a 17+ age rating in the Android and iOS app stores.
Should you 'ride the Yak'?
Sure, why not. During our brief time on Yik Yak, we only saw a few instances of offensive yaks. We actually saw more posts with bad grammar about drinking, baes, fights with neighbors, music, etc. The app is certainly fun to test if you're looking for some quick amusement, though we found ourselves getting a bit bored after a while, especially with all the immaturity and slang, which admittedly also made us feel old.
Let us know in the comments if you're cray cray for Yik Yak.