Q&A with YikYak Co-creator Brooks Buffington
The Towerlight sat down with Brooks Buffington, co-creator of the new social media app Yik Yak. He and Tyler Droll developed the app, which allows users to view anonymous posts that are most popular at their college.
How did Yik Yak get started?
Tyler and I are from Atlanta originally. We didn’t know each other in high school but we ended up going to the same college, Furman University, a liberal arts college in Greenville, South Carolina and we were in the same fraternity there and that’s kind of how we met and became friends. Junior year, Tyler ended up taking an iPhone app minimester course where he learned to code iPhone apps and so then that summer, we tried to come up with ideas and started making apps together and do something like that. And over the summer and our entire senior year, we worked on this one app called Dicho and Dicho was kind of like a social polling app, you know, where you poll your friends on random questions like, ‘Who’s going out?’ or ‘Who’s going to the sports games?’ and stuff like that. All senior year we worked on that. We both graduated and we had so much fun working on that app that we decided we kind of wanted to give it the best run for our money. And so, Tyler dropped out of med school a week before he was supposed to start. He already had all his furniture and everything. And I put a finance career on hold and we started working on this app full time.
How did Yik Yak become what it is today?
It’s usage and stuff wasn’t really where we wanted it to be. We wanted to have a huge app and Tyler had this idea for Yik Yak. It was kind of a side project at the time that we did. So, we launched it in November on our old campus and the basic premise of it is that on our old college campus, we saw that the campus voice was kind of held in the hands of a select few. The quote, unquote popular kids with, you know, parody Twitter accounts or whatever other influential people there are on campus. And so we saw there was a need for everyone to have a voice on campus, for everyone to be able to share a funny story or relay new quickly or just say anything they want to. So that’s how Yik Yak came about and working off of location, it easily connects people without having to have a prior relationship. And we don’t have profiles and stuff, because we want to make sure that everyone is on a level playing ground, that people aren’t being judged unfairly or anything like that. And so we launched it at our old school and got a really good reception and from there, it’s just spread virally across the country. Now we’re at probably over 150 colleges across the U.S.
Describe the app for someone who has never used it before.
I think the best way to describe it would be like a hyper local Twitter with some features of Snapchat because things don’t stay on the feed long. It’s all ephemeral.
Why should college students be interested in Yik Yak?
From a college student’s standpoint, I think that it’s an interesting time in life. And you can get kind of dissected into certain social circles. But Yik Yak is a nice way to kind of connect the whole campus. It bridges all social gaps and circles so that news can spread quickly. The University of Alabama was recently using it through all of the tornado warnings and flooding that they’re been experiencing to relay campus news quickly amongst each other. At Vanderbilt University, this kid’s brother has a rare form of lymphoma cancer. And he needs a blood transfusion. And so he used Yik Yak to put out posts saying that they were doing mouth swabs to see if anyone was a blood match for his brother And he said that he did it on Facebook and Twitter but it got stuck in certain social circles. With Yik Yak, it kind of branched all gaps and boundaries. I think 1,100 people showed up the first day they did the mouth swabs. So really, it just uses connectivity and kind of an open source of social media.
How do you feel about being called an “anonymous Twitter?”
It’s fine. I think that a lot of people will say that anonymity is a big aspect of us. But I personally think our strongest and probably biggest cornerstone is the location. It’s all about the communities. Anonymity is kind of the second part of it. But Yik Yak wouldn’t be the same if it was just anonymous Twitter, it’s the location that makes it special.
What is in store for the future of Yik Yak?
Hopefully by the end of next year, we’ll have a presence at every single American college and university. And then shoot the news in the business place to easily communicate, sporting events, concerts, apartment buildings, pretty much every gathering or density of people.
Should potential users be worried about inappropriate content?
On college campuses, there are always going to be a few bad apples who probably use it inappropriately on your campus. But the biggest thing is that the more people that get on the app, the more diverse its user-ship becomes and the better it is at getting the inappropriate stuff off quickly and becoming a more and more constructive use of social media.