Yik Yak users are outraged by the changes made to the anonymous social app following its silent takeover by similar campus chat app Sidechat. While Yik Yak had focused on posting anonymously within a local community, Sidechat is working to create private communities for colleges. Initially, Yik Yak had been pushing its users to migrate to the Sidechat app after the deal went through. But more recently, Yik Yak users tell us that the company is pursuing a different strategy: Instead of forced migrations, Yik Yak’s own app has undergone a massive overhaul that effectively turns it into Sidechat.
As Yik Yak user Aaron Payment, a student at St. John Fisher University, told us, the updated Yik Yak app is simply “Sidechat re-skinned now”. They also noted that if you sign up for Sidechat, you’ll see everything on your local Yik Yak, as both apps now appear to be running on the same servers.
“Not only did they change everything that was good about the app, but they also made it so that you have to use your college email address to prove you’re in college. That way they can easily track you and share your data for marketing purposes,” explains Aaron. Previously, Yik Yak only needed a phone number to sign up.
It’s not clear if the company has any plans to track its users or share their data, but it’s a legitimate concern for users of a previously anonymity-focused app, and an example of the difficulties an anonymous app would have in trying to find an exit. Any changes that disrupt the app’s previous commitment to end users around protecting their identities will be met with skepticism, mistrust, and anger.
The latest changes were officially announced on Thursday on Yik Yak’s Instagram account, where they soon received numerous complaints in the comments, many of which also received hundreds of likes. In addition to users’ distaste for the updated Yik Yak, they were angry that the Android version of the app had also been removed from Google Play. Yik Yak’s post, meanwhile, promised that the revamp would include new features such as images and polls, interest-based communities, and fewer bugs.
However, what wasn’t detailed in Yik Yak’s announcement was how the app’s functionality has also fundamentally changed. Previously, users said they could save multiple locations so they could talk to different communities, but that has now been removed. With the new Yik Yak you are limited to only communicating with people at your school and the 5 mile radius option is gone.
Some Yik Yak users were so upset that they started a petition, but so far the petition has not reached its goal of 200 signatures and has stalled at about 182. Most of them came in within the first 24 hours. Still, there are plenty of complaints to go around on Twitter and in the Yik Yak app itself, as users encounter the updated UI and functionality.
A group of users decided to spam the GIFs and messages to the app all at once to crash the servers, but the app kept running.
Yik Yak himself acknowledged the backlash on Saturday, in a now-deleted tweet: “been a long week.”
Additionally, Yik Yak product manager Tom Zyzer posted some user complaints in his story, joking, “I love my fans and my fans love me!”
This isn’t the first time Yik Yak has had a tumultuous exit.
In 2017, the company closed after Square (now Block) “acquired” its engineers in a $1 million deal. It was a disappointing result for a company that had raised $73.4 million in venture capital and was once valued at $400 million at its peak. The exit was a sign of the challenges ahead for a group of anonymous apps, where the ability to post without real consequences often leads to cyberbullying and abuse. Other apps, including Secret, also shut down or found their own ignominious exits. Some, like Sarahah, turned around.
But in more recent years, anonymous apps seemed to be making a comeback. After Snapchat banned anonymous Q&A apps from its platform, apps like Sendit, NGL, and Slay took off by focusing on Instagram. An anonymous compliment app Gas sold to Discord. Even Sidechat now faces competition from Fizz, an anonymous student-only app that exploded at Stanford.
The current version of Yik Yak first launched in 2021, under a new owner – who also chose to remain anonymous.
Sidechat’s owners have also not revealed themselves, even when the app was profiled by The New York Times. However, an SEC filing for Sidechat’s parent company, Flower Ave., points to involvement of ex-Snap engineer Sebastian Gil and ex-Snap product designer Chamal Samaranayake. (We have confirmed this through sources to be accurate). According to the filing, the company raised more than $10 million last summer, shortly after it was written by several university press, such as The Harvard Crimson and The Tufts Daily.
Sidechat has not returned requests for comment.
From the looks of things, it doesn’t look like the Yik Yak deal is paying off for Sidechat. The company was clearly hoping to increase its own user base with Yik Yak’s numbers to dominate the anonymous app app market. But if these angry users just close their accounts and leave, Sidechat may not have gained much.