Building community via social media channels like Facebook and Twitter has been quite effective. Yik Yak is the latest app to do this.
The anonymous social media app allows you to share informational postings or “Yaks” with those in close proximity to you.
Charting the course of social media sites and apps will lead you from a mostly-anonymous digital scene, to identity-is-everything channels (eg Facebook), and back again.
An increasing number of apps now pride themselves on their anonymous social functionality. In the United States, Yik Yak is the leader in this emerging category. Released in 2013, the app quickly became the go-to place for all sorts of good, bad, and ugly conversations.
Generating tremendous controversy, Yik Yak voluntarily erected a digital barrier around US high schools. Known as a geo-fence, this blockade kept high school students from using the app whilst on school grounds.
In addition to being anonymous, Yik Yak is confined to your location, you can only post "yaks" within it.
Yaks are posted within a 1.5 mile radius that can expand up to 10 miles depending on the quantity of submissions to the app. If 100 people post a yak from within a 1.5 mile area, all they would see in their app stream would be those yaks. However, if you're in an area where there isn't a lot of activity, the radius will expand to 10 miles as it searches for yaks in your general location.
Posts on Yik Yak can be commented on (also anonymously) as well as voted either up or down. Once a yak receives five negative down-votes, it is automatically removed from the public feed. Yaks that receive a large number of up-votes are listed in both a user's "new" and "hot" feeds.
Most mentioned campus service on Yik Yak at UCSB - Counselling/Psych Services. Depression mentioned quite numerous times. #sachat— Joe Sabado (@JoeSabado) May 14, 2015
Fairly ephemeral, yaks do not stay in a user's feed forever. Depending on activity, yaks may only appear for only a day or so before they disappear.
To Yak or not to Yak
A quick web search about Yik Yak reveals scores of news stories from colleges and universities (such as this case) where anonymous posts have been the root cause of problematic circumstances. Additionally, there has been an uptick in university leaders who are trying to either shut down or ban Yik Yak.
Mostly lost in the media's coverage is the fact that there have been instances where good things have happened via Yik Yak on university campuses.
University president sends letter to Yik Yak founders asking them to "disband" the app. https://t.co/92aqPra4g3— Eric Stoller (@EricStoller) March 20, 2015
Reminiscent of the early "growing pains" of other social networking apps, Yik Yak is evolving. Time will tell whether or not the mobile social anonymous network can scale its experience to a greater number of users.
Like a lot of our social networking channels, Yik Yak represents the full breadth of human communication. As a conduit for engagement and learning, the app has tremendous potential. In the US, often the first time an administrator or faculty member learns about the app is when something negative happens.
In order to fully utilise an app that is growing in use, higher education staff need to be intentional in their approach. With a large presence at higher education institutions in the United States, Yik Yak is working to grow its worldwide usage. Recruiting students as campus representatives, it's making a big push to increase its community of users.
Joining the herd
Branding itself and its users as a "herd," Yik Yak softens its rough image by showcasing its ability to allow for expression without judgement in a real-time space. Plus, the app is easily one of the best ways to find out about campus themes/issues.
Community and engagement
If you want to see how Yik Yak is being used at a specific university, Yik Yak has a feature called "Peek" which allows you to explore posts (without the ability to vote or post) within any location. I have found this feature to be particularly enlightening as a means of social "listening." If something is happening that is of interest at an institution, it will undoubtedly turn up on Yik Yak.
Recently, while in North Carolina to consult with Duke University, I was in conversation with an administrator about some challenging issues that had dominated campus discourse during this academic year. We talked about how we were hopeful that things would be "quiet" for the rest of the year. However, when I woke up at 3:00AM, an unfortunate result of transatlantic jet lag, a quick perusal of the local Yik Yak stream revealed that something controversial had happened overnight.
Engaging with Yik Yak
Further and higher education practitioners cannot afford to sit back and be passive when it comes to the digital communication channels that students are using. Educating, leading, and engaging in all spaces is the new mandate in 2015.
At the very least, downloading the app and observing what's being said will provide insight into the ever-growing network that is Yik Yak.
Are there best practices for educators in this space? Not really. We're still figuring out how to tread in the digital domain. Yik Yak might be an ugly space at times, but if you take a look, students are mostly writing about revising, Netflix, and the weather.
For now, Yik Yak is the dominant player in the anonymous geo-social mobile app space. Educators should learn how to use Yik Yak today as preparation for the next big thing. I've been posting, up-voting, and down-voting on Yik Yak. Sure, the anonymous aspect is a bit different compared to my preferred social media channels, but at least I can be confident that I'm engaging in lifelong learning in the digital realm.