The Yik Yak Craze

“Why do razor commercials always have the model shaving already hairless legs? If you want to impress me with your product, shave a gorilla.” This “Yak” was posted on the anonymous social media app Yik Yak, which publishes gossip, personal feelings, current news, and comical remarks within a 10-mile radius of the user. According to TechCrunch, fellow Yakers can participate in the community by “writing, responding and up- or down-voting Yaks.”

Within only two hours of being posted, the aforementioned gorilla-shaving Yak was categorized in the “Hot” section for it’s quick collection of “upvotes.” Upvotes are equivalent to Facebook likes or Twitter favorites, which spur the site’s functionality because users, (also known as Yakers,) are motivated to contribute more often when they receive a lot of responses from their community. Furthermore, the more upvotes a Yaker has, the more Yakarma points they receive. Although these points are virtually worthless, they need to be earned to be acquired, so the individual Yaker weighs their personal self worth by comparing their total Yakarma to their importance in the community.

This supports Kraut and Resnick’s (2011) claim that successful “site designs that encourage systematic, quantitative feedback generate verbal feedback as well” (p. 47). Non-Yakers might argue, but what’s the point if these points and upvotes don’t actually mean anything? And if these Yaks are completely anonymous and no credit is personally being issued to the individual who creates the Yak, why bother?

To this I’d again look to Kraut and Resnick (2011) to explain that regardless of whether or not the feedback is positive is irrelevant. This is because whether it is encouraging or dismissive, the “performance feedback can be motivating because of people’s desire for self improvement” (p. 47). Thus, if the Yaker received 20 upvotes, the next time they’ll shoot to beat their old record and maybe get 30 upvotes. By the same degree, a Yaker who receives downvotes or a less than anticipated amount of responses might repost their Yak at a later time or review it for edits.

After using the app, I can attest to experiencing these feelings first hand, and can honestly state that I have received both types of positive and negative responses. And while the upvoting feature does allow its users to feel a sense of accomplishment when their original Yaks get upvoted, the negative responses have just, if not more, of an influence. For instance, in my own experience, I believe that when I have received negative responses I’m even more motivated to rectify the Yak by editing it or deleting it wholly in an attempt to contribute to the community more effectively.

I can also attest to the fact that what first intrigued me and truly pulled me in was the social app’s anonymity feature. This allows its users to feel as though they can be more open and vocally uninhibited, as opposed to other platforms that not only display your name next to your post or comment, but also shows your picture. According to Kraut and Resnick (2011) “making group members anonymous will foster identity-based commitment” which in turn, should lead to stronger feelings of bonding and belonging to the community (p. 87). While I at first felt this way, I quickly learned this was a double-edged sword of a feature. Thus, while the anonymity aspect allowed Yakers to feel closer to the Yik Yak community at times, it also possessed the ability to make them feel alienated or worse, attacked. Which is why many schools are attempting to block Yik Yak from their wireless networks. And the Today Show even went so far as to label it the “new home of cyber-bullying.”

Despite its seemingly at times aggressive nature, Yik Yak does have rules. In the “Rules & Info” section on their official website, Yik Yak actually encourages Yakers in their communities to downvote Yaks that are “useless or offensive.” However, what constitutes a useless or offensive yak is not at all specified, so room for interpretation is granted. This wiggle room has granted the app it’s description of being called “crass,” and perhaps if the rules were more salient and enforced, it would save the app from being banned at so many schools. However, because that is not the case, members continue to post sexist, racist, and crude remarks daily. Thus, Kraut and Resnick’s claim that “publicly displaying examples of appropriate behavior on the site shows members what is expected and increases their adherence to those expectations” has never rung more true in this case. Thus, the crude posts will continue to perpetuate until the behavior is punished and publicly made an example of.

I can also attest to the fact that while I at first felt as though the app was very entertaining, the more I used it, the more disconnected I began to feel from it. It became less amusing as more people began copying one another’s Yaks for the sole purpose of attaining upvotes. While at first the upvotes increased my behavior to participate, I began thinking about how useless they were and that my time could be better spent more productively elsewhere. I not only stopped using Yik Yak, but I never spread the word about the app because I didn’t believe it was worthy of telling my friends to join. This was due to the fact that I was never truly incentivized to stay. Kraut and Resnick (2011) claim that “incentives for early members to generate content can increase bootstrapping,” but in my case, the exact opposite occurred (p. 250).

The fact that Yik Yak doesn’t incentivize its users in any way to stay makes me believe it not only has a high turn over rate, but also won’t last long. Although this is a trending app now, I believe that without applying this needed and proper leverage to keep its early members, the app will be nothing but a fad and fade away. However, despite my own beliefs for Yik Yak’s future, after researching the app’s adoption rate, it appears to be only gaining speed and is currently used at 1,000 universities.

One reason I would speculate for Yik Yak’s ever-increasing success is because of the app’s ability to grant its users instant followers, without making them do all of the legwork of rounding up their own viewers. For example, unlike most social media platforms where you have to acquire friends by asking permission to follow them or accepting your friend request, Yik Yak allows its users immediate access to an entire community. All the new Yaker has to do is agree for the app to use their current location, and poof! The Yaker gains hundreds of followers reading whatever they choose to Yak about.

Another reason I believe Yik Yak has continued to gain popularity is because regardless of other users Yakarma points, everyone on the app is of equal standing. No one Yaker wields more power than another, so there isn’t a hierarchical structure. Therefore, when fellow Yakers comment or “moderate” the Yaks posted, it’s understood that the anonymity makes all viewers unbiased to vote in either direction. This goes hand in hand with Kraut and Resnick’s (2011) claim that “members of the community, who are impartial, and who have limited or rotating power” are the foundations of both a more “legitimate” and “effective” community (p. 134). Thus, no one Yaker is better or worse than anyone else on the app.

In conclusion, while Yik Yak has it’s obvious reservations against it, it appears to be doing very well due to its anonymity feature and access to immediate followers. Perhaps young students will even want to use it even more where it’s banned solely because it’s banned due to “the scarcity effect.” Regardless, I truly believe that this app is merely a fad, and within the next couple of years will decline in popularity due to the aforementioned shortcomings.