Yik Yak yearns to be local not just anonymous with nearby and status features

Anonymity has proven a dangerous path for startups like Secret, so Yik Yak is pushing a soft pivot towards connection with people close by. You can still share anonymous quips on the sagging college app, but now it wants you to post status updates
about what you’re doing that day, and let you browse and contact nearby Yakkers.

Changing course is critical for Yik Yak, which has declined
in monthly users and on the iOS
and Android
app charts the past two years. It’s no longer red-hot with buzz. Reading anonymous jokes and gripes gets exhausting after awhile, leading to retention problems. Meanwhile, since its users are mostly college kids sharing in esoteric campus bubbles, Yik Yak falls apart when they leave or summer or graduate. Local features could prove useful for them when they’re home or move it a new city.

Still, teaching an old app new tricks is a struggle. But Yik Yak has to find some way to make good on the $73 million
it’s raised thanks to Sequoia. It’s stepping on the turf of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Tinder with today’s update. That’s a pack of apps that’s tough to tangle with.

Yik Yak
co-founder and CEO Tyler Droll explains that “The main difference here is the different graph. It’s all about the local graph” opposed to the immediate social graph and celebrities on these other apps. “What bar is everyone headed to across my entire campus? I can get the pulse in my community beyond my really close friend circle” Droll says.

The startup prepped for this shift over the past year with the launch of handles
that create identity behind your posts but without your real name, profiles
, photos
, and finally, chat
. With that groundwork layed, it’s not only burying some new features in extra tabs. It’s building them right into the main feed people already use, a la Instagram Stories.

3- Explore tab#Now lets Yakkers post 18-character, super-short status updates that disappear in 24 hours. It’s like Snapchat meets Down To Lunch. You could say you’re “studying bio”, “playing frisbee” or “Going to Old Pro” in hopes that other people will show up there too, or message you to meet up. People can see these on your profile or in the #Now tab atop the main feed.

Local Yakkers shows little profile thumbnails of up to 100 people close by atop your home tab in the new Explore tab (renamed from Herds). This way you can dive into their profiles, see if you have similar interests, and chat them up. It’s sure to become a dating feature, though Yik Yak co-founder Brooks Buffington tells me that’s not the reason it was built.

“If I see someone else is listening to Jamie XX or something, that could resonate with me and I’d want to know more about them. Maybe Jamie XX is about to have a concert near campus and now I can find people to arrive with” says Buffington.

Yik Yak says today’s overhaul is about “making the world feel small again”. That’s easy when you’re on a cushy US college campus surrounded by people like you. But to win big, Yik Yak will need to impress new demographics like college grads and people around the world that they need this form of connection. It already barred teens by disabling it within high school geofences.

Right now, the app’s image is still firmly rooted in anonymous ephemera hurled out by randos in your proximity. This yak must evolve.

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