One of my favorite parts about guest speaking at colleges is that I get to learn about all the latest trends in digital technology.  It seems like every semester there is a new “it” mobile app.  Last month, the students from Skidmore College taught me about one of the hottest new trends on college campuses: Yik Yak.

Yik Yak is a simple mobile message board app that allows users to post 140 character messages that other users can reply to, “up vote” and “down vote.”  In a lot of ways it’s like any internet message board, but what makes Yik Yak unique is that your messages are only viewable within a few miles of your physical location.

Essentially it’s a cross between Twitter, Reddit and Tinder.

A few weeks back I downloaded the app to see what it was like for myself.  At first, I was not terribly surprised by what I found.  Similar to most anonymous internet-based technologies, the messages on Yik Yak range from comedic and lewd to banal.  True to form, the college student target audience seems to spend most of their time talking about homework, school, eating, dating, and nightlife.

What intrigues me most about Yik Yak is not the app itself, but rather the evolution of the way young people have been using technology.  From my vantage point there has been a clear positive trend over the past few years.

Unlike Tinder (finding a date in your local area), Lulu (evaluating the sexual performance of men) and SnapChat (photo messages that get deleted/originally used heavily for sexting) – which focus (at least partially) on explicitly lewd behavior – Yik Yak is a bit more introspective.  There are scores of messages on Yik Yak just calling out feelings and struggles that users are experiencing:

For example, these are just a few messages from the past hour:

“Working really hard on this paper.  And by that I mean I’ve doodled all over the assignment sheet and I’m not really sure what the prompt is anymore”

“Sunday fun day?  More like Sunday- run away from your work- day”

“Didn’t leave my room all day and feeling great about it”

These posts and many others like them are simply a call for connection.  A user posts these feelings to see if there are others out there that are feeling the same thing.  For example, when you post that you’re lonely and someone up votes it – you can see that you’re not the only one who feels that way.  Yik Yak thrives on the basic need for human connection and allows you to see that there are other people out there who are just like yourself.

When it comes to mobile apps, the news media pays heavy attention to the inappropriate use of this technology and the way that it’s changing our world for the worse.  However, interestingly enough, given some time people have come back and chosen for themselves a more responsible and mature use of mobile technology.

Yik Yak
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  • Hey, did you read danah boyd’s It’s Complicated? You should check it out if not. Lots of good insight into how teenagers (and people) interact with online spaces.

  • Nope haven’t read boyd yet. I’ll check it out though! Thanks for the recommendation.