It's a truism that all software expands until it includes messaging, and Yik Yak is no exception. The mostly anonymous campus social network today introduced chat, allowing users who have created "handles" inside the app to communicate with one another privately. Chat was the most-requested feature in the app, which in January had about 4 million users a month, according to TechCrunch.
The move comes at a time when Yik Yak is struggling with the perception that its growth has stalled. The TechCrunch report noted that a host of key employees have left in recent months, including its chief technical officer, its head of product, and a director of engineering. The app functions as a kind of digital bulletin board on college campuses, but its anonymous nature has meant that it struggles to develop bonds between users.
Chat is a step toward building a real community. But its a double-edged sword: anonymous chats typically lead to abuse. That's why the company requires that both users opt-in to chat — you can invite someone to message with you privately, but can't send them a message until they accept. First-time users of the chat feature are warned against bullying, posting anonymous information, and spam. "If your yaks are repeatedly reported or flagged, you will be suspended," the company says. It's seems unlikely that chat alone will lead to significant growth to Yik Yak, but the implementation seems thoughtful — and given what we expect from our social networks, it feels necessary as well.