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Even if you’ve never heard of Yik Yak, you probably know someone who uses it. The app, which lets anyone post anonymous messages visible only to others nearby, has a massive following in university towns – enough to be valued between $300 to $400 million by investors, despite not being monetized right now.

Meanwhile, college administrations across America have tried to ban the app without much success (though it is completely blocked at middle and high schools).

You might have heard all this and more, but what does Yik Yak actually do? The best way to find out is to install the app, which runs on Android and iOS devices. If you’d rather not, here’s a quick rundown of how the app works.

It’s Local

When you open Yik Yak, you’ll see the most recent comments from people within a ten mile radius with you. That’s it.

There’s no way to filter the content by topic, or follow particular people: location is the only way that messages are sorted. Think of it as a digital bulletin board to leave notes on, or – probably more accurately – a digital bathroom door to scratch messages onto.

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This is the main difference between Yik Yak and other social networks. On Facebook you share things with “friends”; on Twitter, with “followers”. There’s no concept like this in Yik Yak – instead, everything you post is visible to anyone nearby. Your physical location determines your network.

Depending on where you live, you might not see much – but if you live near a university, you’ll probably see a lot.

It’s Anonymous

There’s no registration for Yik Yak – you can’t even pick a username if you want to. Everything you say on the network is anonymous, and all you need to do to join the conversation is install the app.

This means people feel completely securing saying pretty much anything. Sometimes people are self-reflective in ways they probably wouldn’t be without anonymity.

More often, though, people talk about poop (or being hungover). It’s your standard mix of anonymous comments, really.

There’s Voting

Users can vote local comments up and down, which is part of the reason people love posting: validation. There’s always been an appeal to scratching funny message on the bathroom door, but what if you could find out how many people liked that message? This psychology of the upvote is no small part of what motivates people to leave notes on Yik Yak.

Messages that get a massive number of upvotes end up on the “Best All Time Yaks” page, a huge ego boost for those who can manage it. There’s no public way for you to show this “yakarma” off, the network being anonymous, but the app itself does track your points for you.

It Can Be Kind Of Funny

The voting system means some people try hard to be funny. Most don’t succeed – the place is full of lame one-lines.

Still, the humour is a big reason people check the app regularly.

It Can Be Informative, Sometimes

Occasionally Yik Yak can go from an amusing diversion to actually being useful. If there’s something going on near you, from a traffic jam to a protest, there’s a good chance someone is commenting about it on there.

(There’s also a good chance you’ll see comments about dorm life, hangovers, and poop.)

It Can Be Gut-Wrenchingly Terrible

Unregulated anonymous comments do have their downside. There have been all kinds of bomb and shooting threats made using the network, leading in many cases to arrests –posts are anonymous so far as other users are concerned, but you’re never really anonymous online Can You Really Be Anonymous Online? Can You Really Be Anonymous Online? We all have things we'd rather not tell the world about. I think it's time we clear up a few things about anonymity online -- and answer once and for all, whether it's really possible. Read More and the app’s owners do cooperate with law enforcement.

It’s not just threats: some anonymous commenters seem comfortable saying racist or otherwise terrible things.

This isn’t uncommon online, but the local aspect of Yik Yak means that horrible racist might be someone you know – uncomfortable to say the least. A recent episode of Gimlet media’s Reply All podcast shows what Yik Yak can be like at its worst, and it’s not pretty.

It’s Kind Of Cyberbullying Central

Christian, our security expert, feels the app breaches teens’ privacy 10 Social Mobile Apps That Breach Your Teenager's Privacy 10 Social Mobile Apps That Breach Your Teenager's Privacy Your children have become proto-adults, beginning to grow up. Like their friends, they spend a lot of time using smartphones, tablets and computers in a way you could only dream of. Read More . He’s not alone: the combination of anonymous and local means people can post anything, about anyone, with no consequences.

And people have, using the app to spread all kinds of rumours. NBC called Yik Yak the new home of cyberbulling. It got so bad at high and middle schools across America that school boards tried to ban the app – without much success, until the app’s makers stepped in.

It’s Blocked At US Middle and High Schools

Kids using Yik Yak for bullying How Safe Are Apps Like Kik, Yik Yak And Snapchat For Teens? How Safe Are Apps Like Kik, Yik Yak And Snapchat For Teens? What's safe for my child? Will they be safe on the Internet? Is this a safe app? The reality is that nothing is safe - it's how you use it that makes it safe. Read More apparently shocked the app’s creators, so they did something about it.

The app no longer works if you’re on the grounds of a US high or middle school. A database of school locations across the country makes this possible.

You Can Look In On Other Places

You can only post and comment in your geographic area, but it’s possible to see what people are saying in other places. Just search for any university or city to start browsing.

If you’re wondering what people are your old college are talking about, this is a quick way to find out. Lori Rozsa of the New York Times, a mother, spied on life at her child’s college using this feature, another potential use.

It Will Be Replaced, Eventually

Speaking of moms looking at Yik Yak: part of the appeal of the app was its relative obscurity. It’s anonymous, sure, but it’s also a place for college students to talk to each other without family showing up and ruining the party 5 Hottest Social Networking Sites Without Your Grandma 5 Hottest Social Networking Sites Without Your Grandma Is the social network market saturated? Isn't everyone already on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and LinkedIn? Not quite. Read More .

If you’re a parent, the fact that you’re reading about Yik Yak now probably means college kids will stop using it soon. The pattern with anonymous message boards is that they die when too many people find out about them – sites like JuicyCampus came before, and and apps like Erodr are working hard to replace Yik Yak as we speak. There’s no doubt this cycle will continue, so don’t be confused if you’re hearing about another anonymous app entirely in a few months.

Do you think Yik Yak’s bad reputation is unfair? What are your favourite parts of the app? Leave your comments below if I’ve been unfair, it’s possible I’m just becoming old.

  1. Mike
    July 24, 2016 at 10:25 pm

    Yik yak is for losers

  2. sam
    May 31, 2016 at 3:56 pm

    i am in nc but want to post my yaks on UCF orlando. is this possible?

  3. Bob
    April 22, 2016 at 2:12 am

    Yik yak is sick screw the haters

  4. yikker
    November 15, 2015 at 8:14 am

    On ANDROID, you can _reset_ the herd location you set using a root explorer IF YOU ARE ROOTED. This method will not work if you are not rooted as a root explorer is required!!

    Before doing anything, make sure you disable herd on Yik Yak, and quit the app.

    Now find the following xml file (I've included the directory):

    /data/data/com.yik.yak/shared_prefs/com.yik.yak_preferences.xml

    Open it using a text editor.

    Find the following string:

    Change "true" to "false"

    Now load up Yik Yak, go to settings, and turn on herd. You should be able to set it up again based on your current location.

  5. joemail
    May 22, 2015 at 8:10 pm

    I don't think it will be replaced quite yet. It's been a few months since you wrote this, and it is only growing at this point.

  6. Marie
    May 9, 2015 at 12:55 am

    how far back in time can you see the posts?

    • Justin Pot
      May 10, 2015 at 9:57 pm

      Not very, they disappear pretty quickly and there's not much of an archive feature. Unless a given post goes viral, it's likely gone forever in a couple of days (if not hours).

  7. Austin mahone
    May 5, 2015 at 5:32 am

    Yik yak is dumb. I just downloaded it and it's so boring. PPP are either poring about being drunk or hornet. They don't even like to talk about celebrity gossip. App freaking boring this yik yak crap

    • Justin Pot
      May 5, 2015 at 1:31 pm

      It's a local chat service; talk about something local.

  8. Dan
    April 19, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    "College administrations across American"? Typo police!!

    • Justin Pot
      April 20, 2015 at 1:28 pm

      Thanks! I'll fix that now.

  9. yak
    March 12, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    Everyone is on Woo Woo now.

    • Justin Pot
      March 12, 2015 at 3:31 pm

      Nice try, Woo Woo PR team. :)

  10. Aqualung
    January 28, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    When I was in college -- Get off my lawn! -- people wrote stuff like this on walls of restrooms on campus. Today, it looks like Yik Yak is the Web's public restroom wall.

    • Justin Pot
      January 29, 2015 at 1:08 am

      I have a feeling janitorial staff prefer Yik Yak.

  11. Jessica C
    January 27, 2015 at 4:55 am

    My sister describes YikYak as 'like Twitter if it didn't have your identity attached'. I think she's right - lots of yaks feel very tweet-like, and they share that 'in the moment' quality as well.

    For all people are chastised about not posting things to Twitter they wouldn't want a future boss to read, they can post it to YikYak where others in the neighbourhood can upvote if they agree.

    • Justin Pot
      January 27, 2015 at 3:37 pm

      This is certainly true. Tweets are attached to your name, and stay on the web as an archive long term. Yaks are more etherial, disappearing completely if no one thinks they're interesting.

  12. Fred
    January 26, 2015 at 9:08 pm

    The colors of the user interface are too pastel and so the texts are totally UNREADABLE. As there is no preference pane to change these colors, this app cannot be used by people older than 40 !

    • Justin Pot
      January 26, 2015 at 9:11 pm

      Part of me wonders if this is intentional...

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