When roughly 40% of Americans have experienced harassment online, one Black-owned tech company wants to create a more humane way to communicate virtually.
Founded by Jennifer Dyer and Kiaran Sim in 2015, Yappa is a tool that aims to prevent users of online platforms—including social media and news websites—from hiding behind anonymous, written comments by requiring them to share their thoughts using their voices. It’s a Clubhouse-meets-Twitter concept: Yappa’s more than 400 clients, among them The Hill, Vox and PerezHilton.com, can incorporate its patented technology into their sites via a browser extension widget. Users interested in weighing in must create Yappa accounts and agree to submit their comments in audio or video form.
“When you’re using your voice, you’re a lot more careful with what you say than when you are lobbing grenades from behind the keyboard,” says Sim.
“There’s just a lot of toxicity [when] you don’t have to put yourself on that front line, you don’t have to own your voice, you don’t have to own your responsibility, you can be anonymous,” adds Dyer. “We wanted to provide a tool where people were going to be able to have civil conversations.”
And while most social media platforms look to create a sense of community on their own sites, Yappa aims to help companies regain and retain their audiences.
“We are a social media platform that encourages publishers to get back some of their audience that the social media giants have robbed them from,” says Sim. “We were really trying to put the power back in the publishers’ hands to foster good behavior and give them the social tools that they need to keep their audience on their side.”
To double down on this effort, Yappa today announced a $3.5 million Series A led by Future Media Limited. Much of its new funding will go toward expanding existing features, such as direct messaging between users, and launching new ones, like pages where those with similar interests can connect.
Since launching four years ago, Yappa has gone through several evolutions. In March 2019, Dyer and Sim converted what had been an app into a widget that could be more seamlessly integrated into online platforms. And though their goal continues to be mitigating abuse online, they’ve discovered additional applications for their software, including in radio.
“We’ve brought utility to [radio] websites that would normally never really be seen by their audience,” says Sim, who now counts iHeart among Yappa’s clients. “You’d have to call up On Air with Ryan Seacrest and wait 25 minutes for your 10 seconds of fame. Now you can just leave a ‘Yap.’ Ryan Seacrest uses the app on a daily basis to integrate into the program.”
And amid the pandemic, Yappa has applied its technology to virtual events, helping those including Black Entrepreneurs Day and Shaq vs. Gronk better engage attendees. The company reports a 2% violation rate across all of the platforms it works with.
With no direct competitors, Yappa is breaking new ground in social media, but Dyer insists the concept is rooted in simplicity. “We were born to talk, but we were taught to text. It just goes back to the basics.”