In the fall of 2014, Yik Yak, the popular app geared to universities and their surrounding areas, exploded in popularity. Used by thousands of students, the app allows users to post thoughts, questions, happenings and musings, for the campus to see. It resembled an anonymous twitter feed, limited to a certain number of characters.
While scrolling through the app one night, a University of Rhode Island sophomore came across a yak that changed the course of his next three years at the University.
“What if someone combined the anonymity of Yik Yak with photos?” it read. Immediately after seeing the Yak, he and his group of friends did some digging into apps and decided to use Snapchat as a workable solution to the question. Shortly after, “uri_snapyak,” a Snapchat account that allowed users to submit their personal snapchats to a public feed, was born. Known just as “USY” to his followers, he asked to keep his identity anonymous due to the account’s nature.
“We got a message from somebody out at URI, who wanted to see something happen, and we started it,” USY said.
The response, he said, was huge. Within the first few nights the account was already growing from 300-400 followers per night. “Instantly we knew it was going to be something that people would enjoy, and something people wanted to use,” he said.
Since that fall semester, USY has accumulated around 12,000 followers, mostly URI students. But over the course of the next two years, the account was shut down periodically by Snapchat, as it does not allow third party apps to interfere with its API. But in his senior year, and several name changes later, USY revived the account, and is working to restore the feed to its original glory. Since officially rebooting the account about two weeks ago, he has about 7,000 followers and counting.
In order to keep the feed interesting, USY said he posts snaps that he feels people at the university want to see by asking their input periodically. Each day, USY sifts through about 200-300 submissions. He gets so many responses that he needs an additional “snapyak phone.”
“You have to decide, is a picture of somebody eating their lunch at Hope quality content, or is it somebody punching their hand through a wall, or is it something more illicit that might gather people’s attention,” USY said.
In choosing content, USY has said that he wants content which “identifies the school and entertains the students. You can only see so many pictures of construction, or this kid’s dorm room…so we chose more entertaining content. What would make people want to talk about it?”
Even though not every snap gets posted, he’s seen them all. He’s seen people punch through walls, bring chickens to parties, have sex, crack open beers in class, snort cocaine, and smoke lots, and lots of weed. The best Snaps, he said, are the ones that grow larger than just a single Snap.
“There was this one guy who would just go around taking people’s beanies off and throwing them,” USY said. “Another guy faces an entire banana…those are the best. Something that’s completely unexpected.”
Due to the account’s nature, USY definitely gets requests to have snaps removed. “If you were involved in the post, or if you took the post, if you submitted any sort of evidence that you were involved or you took the snap, it gets taken down as fast as I can take it down,” USY said. But, he said, it’s the public domain. Faculty, RAs, and other high profile campus members do follow the account. He added that he’s not out to report people for illegal activity, as that’s much of the content on the feed, but he does draw the line at drunken driving.
“I’ve lost friends to drunk driving,” he said. He’s only reported people a handful of times, but in that case, he does let the authorities know. “The followers know that’s not something I stand for.”
No, USY doesn’t plan on revealing himself to his followers anytime soon, but he admits his face has been on the account a few times. He’s a student, who goes to Bonvue, does group projects, and has a job. But outside a close group of friends, his identity is still a secret. After graduation, USY said he’s still looking for ways to “pass the torch” and grow the account, but he said that because of his love for the University he would undoubtedly stay involved.
“‘Think big, we do?’ No, sometimes we’d want to think small,” USY said. “Sometimes we want to be crowded, 200-300 people in a hot basement, drinking jungle juice. Sometimes we want to just be lying out on the quad, smoking a bowl.”
“People want to know, what does it mean to be a Ram at URI?” USY said. “It’s to go to Bonvue on Thursdays, it’s to smoke a lot of weed, it’s to be absolutely ridiculous on the weekends, but at the same time, know that when midterms come there’s going to be three kids on a bench sleeping in the library.”
USY is always open to communicating with followers, either through email or Snapchat. Follow “uri_snapyak” on Snapchat, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.