Technology

Sarconi: Yik Yak’s move to diversify its product shows attempt for growth

Every successful mobile application has to decide between two paths: to go right and make a desktop version of their app, or go left and keep their app in a mobile-only format.

Yik Yak, the social media app college students most closely associate with anonymous trolling, has apparently decided they are ready to make the leap from the small screen to the big one.

Although this feels similar to a 6-year-old applying for a job, the company’s reasoning behind the decision is fairly sound. In a blog post on its site, the company says it wants users to be able to access their “local herd” at all times.

“The need for a web version of Yik Yak is obvious,” the blog says. “When your phone’s battery is on 2%, when you don’t have cell service, or when you just want to be able to reply to a yak SUPERFAST and simply can’t type the words quickly enough on your touchscreen.”

From a business point of view, that’s a reasonable justification. Making a product as available as possible will only help your company. As long as the creators didn’t sell their majority stock to pay for the increased software personnel, they made a smart decision in diversifying their product.

This may be a sign that Yik Yak is about to change. Jennifer Grygiel, an assistant professor in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications who specializes in social media, said this could indicate Yik Yak is trying to appeal to an older demographic.

“If you want to be a professional social media platform, I really do think you need to have a desktop app because professionals sit at a computer,” Grygiel said.

If that’s the case, then we should see Yik Yak add some new features in the coming months. If it’s not, this might be an app that’s better suited to stay mobile.

When I had Yik Yak, it served as a time-filler. If I was bored on a bus or a train or in the middle of class, I would go on it, scroll through the comments and leave. I never spent much time on it and, when I did, I only used as a distraction.

At least in the way I have observed and experienced them, mobile applications are generally used in shorter-time intervals than desktop ones. You can do pretty much anything you want on a computer — the world’s entire recorded history is on there.

Phones are different in that they are application-based and scrolling-oriented. You might still have the Internet at your fingertips, but it’s often done so through downloadable programs. That makes the user experience more segmented. Once you’re done with an app, you can effortlessly flick your thumb to move on to another app, and then another, and so on and so forth.

When it comes down to it, it will be the ways in which users adapt to the move to desktop that will mark Yik Yak’s success — a reaction that will likely be monitored by other mobile-only apps.

Snapchat, for instance, could look at Yik Yak’s failure or success when evaluating what path it wants to go down. The company may have already decided it’s a mobile-only application. But if it hasn’t, and Yik Yak’s web client is highly successful, it may determine that users will follow a quality product to any platform.

“It’s interesting,” Grygiel said, “These mobile-first platforms are starting to come to desktop. Why? Because everyone is looking for growth.”

Despite this, I am skeptical about the success of most mobile-first apps going to desktop and here’s why: Instagram. It’s by far one of the most popular social media apps of our generation and yet many people could probably count on their hand the number of times they’ve used it on a computer.

The crossover just isn’t as enjoyable. And, perhaps, this is because the nature of mobile applications is so deeply rooted in the way we use our phones that they cannot cross platforms seamlessly.

But we’ll never know if companies like Yik Yak don’t try.

Paul Sarconi is a senior broadcast and digital journalism major. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at pjsarcon@syr.edu and followed on Twitter @paulsarconi.

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