Yik Yak users are enraged over the changes being made to the anonymous social app after its quiet acquisition by the similarly focused campus chat app, Sidechat. While Yik Yak had focused on anonymous posting within a local community, Sidechat is working to build 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 the company is pursuing a different strategy — instead of forced migrations, Yik Yak’s own app has been given 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 just “Sidechat reskinned now.” They also noted that if you sign up for Sidechat, you’ll see everything on your local Yik Yak because both apps appear to now be running on the same servers.
“Not only did they change everything good about the app, but they made it so you have to use your college email to prove that you’re in college. That way, they can easily track you and share your data for marketing purposes,” Aaron explained. Before, Yik Yak only required a phone number to sign up.
It’s not clear whether the company has plans to track its users or share their data, but it’s a valid concern for users of a previously anonymity-focused app, and an example of the difficulties any sort of anonymous app would have in finding an exit. Any changes that disrupt the app’s prior commitment to end users around protecting their identities are going to be met with skepticism, distrust and anger.
The latest changes were officially announced on Yik Yak’s Instagram account on Thursday where they soon received numerous complaints in the comments — many of which were receiving hundreds of likes, as well. In addition to users’ distaste for the updated Yik Yak, they were upset that the Android version of the app was also removed from Google Play. Yik Yak’s post, meanwhile, promised its revamp would include new features like 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. Before, users said they could save multiple locations so they could talk to various communities, but that’s now been removed. With the new Yik Yak, you are limited to communicating only with people in your school, and the five-mile radius option is gone.
Some Yik Yak users were upset enough to start a petition, but so far it hasn’t reached its goal of 200 signatures, stalling out at around 182. The majority of those 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 user interface and functionality.
One group of users decided to try to spam the GIFs and messages to the app all at the same time in order to crash the servers, but the app remained up and running.
Yik Yak itself acknowledged the backlash on Saturday, in a now-deleted tweet: “been a long week.”
Plus, in a screenshot shared with Techcrunch by a Yik Yak user, Yik Yak PM Tom Zyzer posted some of the user complaints on 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 its doors after Square (now Block) “acqui-hired” its engineers in a $1 million deal. It was a disappointing result for a company that had raised $73.4 million in venture funding and had once been 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-world consequences often lead to cyberbullying and abuse. Other apps, including Secret, also shut down or found their own ignominious exits. Some, like Sarahah, pivoted.
But in more recent years, anonymous apps seemed to be making a return. After Snapchat banned anonymous Q&A apps from its platform, apps like Sendit, NGL and Slay took off by focusing on Instagram. Anonymous compliments app Gas sold to Discord. Even Sidechat now has competition from Fizz, an anonymous college-only app that was blowing up at Stanford.
The current version of Yik Yak first launched in 2021, under new ownership — who also chose to stay anonymous.
Sidechat’s owners haven’t revealed themselves, either, 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 from ex-Snap engineer Sebastian Gil and ex-Snap product designer Chamal Samaranayake. (We’ve confirmed this via sources to be accurate.) Per the filing, the company raised north of $10 million last summer, shortly after getting written up by various university press, like The Harvard Crimson and The Tufts Daily.
Sidechat hasn’t returned requests for comment.
From the looks of things, it doesn’t seem like the Yik Yak deal is paying off for Sidechat. The company was clearly hoping to boost its own user base with Yik Yak’s numbers in order to dominate the anonymous college-only app market. But if these angry users simply close their accounts and leave, then Sidechat may not have gained much of anything.