Furman grads shut down Yik Yak, the once popular and controversial college messaging app

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Yik Yak COO Brooks Buffington (left) and CEO Tyler Droll (right) created the social app while students at Furman.

Furman University graduates Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington have shut down Yik Yak, an anonymous messaging app for college and high school students.

“We were so lucky to have the most passionate users on the planet. It’s you who made this journey possible,” the founders wrote in a blog post. “The time has come, however, for our paths to part ways, as we’ve decided to make our next moves as a company.”

The duo launched the free app on Furman’s campus in 2013. The app, which allowed users to post messages, videos, and photos anonymously to anyone else in their “herd,” became a go-to social feed for high school and college students across the country to complain about finals, find a party, or crack a joke about a rival school.

At the height of its popularity, Yik Yak was the third-most frequently downloaded mobile app. After experiencing a period of huge user growth, a $73.5 million funding round valued the company at $400 million.

But many colleges and universities soon banned the app from their wireless networks as it became a ripe platform for cyberbullying. John Brown University, a Christian college in Arkansas, did so in 2014 after its Yik Yak feed was overrun with racist commentary during a march connected to the school’s World Awareness Week.

In 2015, a group of African-American students at Clemson University unsuccessfully lobbied the university to ban the app when racially offensive posts appeared after a campus march to protest the grand jury’s decision not to indict a white police officer in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo.

Droll and Buffington banned Yik Yak from school zones by eliminating access to it on or near school properties, a technique called geofencing. Geofences were added around all Greenville County Schools.

Last year, the duo implemented mandatory usernames due to the increasing amount of unfiltered vulgarity and threats. The lack of anonymity led many of the site’s most dedicated users to delete their accounts.

By December, the company had dropped out of the top-1,000 apps downloaded in the App Store and laid off 60 percent of its workers. It also sold its engineers to Square, an online payments app, for $3 million.

While Square has adopted Yik Yak’s engineers, Droll and Buffington said they will be “tinkering around with what’s ahead for our brand, our technology, and ourselves,” suggesting that they still control what remains of the company.

“Building Yik Yak – both the app you used and the company that powered it – was the greatest, hardest, most enjoyable, most stressful, and ultimately most rewarding experience we’ve ever had,” the founders wrote in their blog post. “We’re incredibly grateful to the team that put their hearts and souls into making this app special, the investors and mentors who helped us along the way, and the city of Atlanta which provided a great community for us to build our business.”

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