Yik Yak tries to make a comeback with launch of private chat

Earlier this month, TechCrunch reported that Yik Yak would soon be introducing a new feature designed to help the floundering app boost its user retention numbers: private chat. Today, the company confirmed the feature is now going live, along with the introduction of a new “Safety Center,” which will provide resources and tips focused on having a positive experience in the app. This will detail how to take actions like blocking users, for example.

The move to launch chat comes at a time when Yik Yak has seen a dramatic drop in the App Store from its once top-ranked status, and follows the departure of Yik Yak’s CTO, and other senior employees, including Yik Yak’s VP of product, director of engineering, lead product designer, and more. (Yik Yak says the ex-CTO will remain as an adviser.)

As TechCrunch’s Josh Constine previously reported, the startup has seen no significant growth in over a year, and has been consistently missing growth targets. Sources told Constine Yik Yak had 4 million monthly active users in January, but declined since then.

Yak conversation prompt C

The launch of chat is an effort to reverse this downward trend, as the “fun” that comes from being an anonymous social network wears off.

As is often the case with anonymous apps – see now-shuttered Secret, for example, or the rise and fall of Ask.fm – users tire of the bullying, as well as the inappropriate and often offensive posts that appear on networks where people don’t have to put their name behind their words.

This is one reason why Yik Yak launched handles (usernames) last month; it ties posts to an account, though it doesn’t eliminate anonymity. Plus, handles will now allow Yik Yak users to privately converse.

As the company says in its announcement, users can request to chat with any user in their local area who posted a yak or a reply using their handle. The recipient will then get a push notification that tells them you’ve invited them to chat. In this case, you’re also identified by your handle.

You can also change your handle whenever you want, says Yik Yak.

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The company hopes that by offering chat, its users will have a chance to more privately bond – commiserate over shared troubles, or even flirt. There are also practical purposes for chat as Yik Yak displays in its example images – like in the case of Lost & Found items, perhaps.

Of course, anonymized chat could also lead to abuse, which is where the Safety Center comes into play. Here, users will be able to learn about their privacy and safety options on the service.

For instance, if you accept a chat request then find it to be a bad experience, you can block the user. Yik Yak will also allow users to contact support via in-app requests at any time, it says.

Yik Yak says that the new version of its app offering chat is rolling out now on iOS with the Android release arriving in the next few days.