Yik Yak – some more detailed thoughts


About a week ago one of my students mentioned in passing Yik Yak, an app that is a bit of craze at Durham at the moment (as I was soon to learn). I’ve been having a play around with it since then and thought I’d post up some comments and thoughts.

For those that haven’t stumbled across it yet Yik Yak is a social media app that allows users to post anonymous messages which can be read, voted on and commented on by other anonymous users within a vague geographical limit. The limit has been described as 1.5 miles although their website says that users can create and comment on posts (“yaks”) “within a 10 mile radius. Users can also expand the conversation by posting replies to existing Yaks.” . Certainly there does seem to be some variation in what I can see as I’ve accessed the app around different areas of Durham, and somebody next to me on the app can sometimes see slightly different posts.

You can ‘peek’ into the Yaks of another location, although you can’t comment and vote on these. I’ve done this to look at a former university, where I could see that there had been a recent stabbing within the last hour, and Durham’s namesake in North Carolina, where the yaks were pretty intense and it appeared that somebody had been discussing suicide. Obviously neither of these peeks are likely to be representative of these locations.

One of the big features of Yik Yak is that users are completely anonymous. There is no sign up and no profile. Users can collect Yakarma points, but I can’t see what value they have beyond bragging rights (apparently in the US there is a Yik Yak tour and these points can be used to gain ‘swag’.  The website does state that they store

“The IP address from which the message was posted;

The GPS coordinates of the location from which the message was posted;

The time and date when the message was posted”

Which I would guess is to comply with law enforcement issues (in America there has been a backlash in some areas but could have future commercial implications I guess.

Individual posts can get voted up and down by other users (actually the person who posted also gets a vote) and if the yak gets a score of -5 it is deleted, so there is an element of self-policing. Yaks with a particularly high score can feature in the ‘hot list’ and from the content of yaks there’s definitely some kudos to having a yak with a high score (even though it is anonymous and there’s no way of proving it is yours). Another interesting feature is that you can only post text and emoji, I’ve not seen any hyperlinks and when I tried yakking http://www.google.com I got a notification that it had been voted off within seconds (I suspect an algorithm). Similarly there are no pictures or videos, so it is quite basic.

Screenshot of new yaks

Screenshot of new yaks

The votes also give some indication of the number of users at Durham, particularly ‘hot’ yaks seems to quite quickly get scores of 200-300. I’m not sure what the highest yak post score is, but this would suggest that the Yik Yak community at Durham is a fair bit more than that, maybe around a 1,000? Which in the context of a full time UG student population of 10,487 based at Durham City is a pretty significant portion.

Screenshot of 'hot yaks'

Screenshot of ‘hot yaks’

There certainly has been a lot of activity and the content seems to cover work (summatives!), toilets, sex, the library (with 1,300 study spaces clearly quite a big focus of yakkers) inter college rivalry and recycled jokes. Here are the current ‘hot yaks’ on a Thursday lunchtime. (note S/O means ‘shout out’).

Having played around with it for a while now it is quite hard to see much educational value in it. I’ve suggested that library keeps an eye on it, as a lot of the posts could be of interest, and when our VLE went down for scheduled maintenance the number of surprised and angry yaks did suggest that the way this was communicated could probably be improved.

It would be interesting to do a more comprehensive content analysis of YikYak, I’m not sure if there’s a way of scraping the yaks over a period of time and maybe their maximum scores/ duration before being deleted. This could prove quite an interesting, if disturbing, insight into student life here.

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About digitalscholar

I am a sociologist with an interest in new technology. Previously I’ve worked on a number of projects at Lancaster University and the Open University looking at the use of new technologies and social media by researchers. I was also a social sciences teaching fellow at the foundation centre at Durham University teaching sociology and anthropology. I am now a senior lecturer at the University of West London's Institute for Teaching, Innovation and Learning where I oversee the foundation provision and support retention. I'm sure I'll still be interested in, and occasionally blog about, tech related things. I use this blog to post thoughts about using new technologies in my professional academic life and wider thoughts and links relating to technology more generally.
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One Response to Yik Yak – some more detailed thoughts

  1. As a Durham student interested in vaguely amusing apps I have used Yik Yak quite a lot and reading this i did find that it brought a few things to mind.

    Firstly to test your theory I posted up a couple of links (though they didn’t hyperlink) to see if they would stay up. I used Netflix based rather than just plain google because Netflix is longer to stay up as a yak as it vaguely relatable. I found that you could keep links to websites up for a number of minutes, which probably just means nobody really wanted to see a link to google, rather than an algorithm.

    What I have noticed is that the hottest Yaks tend to come from the same group of people, or would appear to. There are also key times to upload yaks a day, so that they get the best coverage/upvotes.
    Self deprecation and or FML scenarios also tend to be the best loved Yaks as a rule.

    Durham also has a strong yak following which, I have found from asking my brother and a few family friends, isn’t always the case at universities. Iw wonder if size of city/spread of university buildings has anything to do with it?

    I do think it is an insight into student life, and could be used to make a change to things accordingly. The VLE being a very good point you made.

    Also I have grown quite bored of it myself, it would seem an app that burns out quickly as many of my friends have said the same. However, we all used it near compulsively for at least a week so maybe we are just tired at staring at our phones.

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