I’m an inveterate chatter. I miss the days of AIM and Gchat; I regularly reread n+1’s fantastic essay on the history and rise of chatting. So when I saw Yap — a new chat application built by Postlight, a digital product studio — I was immediately curious. When I booted it up, I immediately got hooked.
Yap is pretty simple. It’s a six-person chat room (“Because seven is annoying,” says the official blog), where every message you post erases the one you posted before it; you can only say one thing at a time. There’s a place where the room’s owner can drop in a link to discuss as a topic (like, say, a Twitch stream). If you decide to make your Yap room public by sharing the link somewhere, other people can watch what you’re saying in real time.
Crucially, there’s no history; you have to actually pay attention to what people are typing when they’re typing it in real time. That’s rare, these days since just about everything else (aside from Signal, maybe, and Snapchat) is asynchronous. You can drop in whenever you’d like, which means you can catch up. That’s not so in Yap. It’s all about being present in the moment, whatever that might be for you.
“Yap was a stray idea that I had one day for all the reasons you’d expect,” says Paul Ford, co-founder and CEO of Postlight, over DM. His original pitch to the Labs group at the studio, which built the product, was about making a chatroom to decide where to get lunch. “That was my use case but I was definitely thinking that it’d be nice to just not have a lot of nonsense following you around in your logs.”
And it is nice! It feels lightweight and ephemeral in the old-school internetty way. Here, your history isn’t following you around, as it does everywhere else. Adam Pash, head of Postlight’s Labs team, said that Yap chatrooms die if nobody posts for a day, and the messages will disappear with them. “When the room goes the messages go. We never write any of the messages to disk,” he tells The Verge. It’s an app to chat together, as the pitch goes, just like in real life. (You don’t get to scroll up through your friends’ conversations when you join them at the bar.)
It’s also not something Postlight expects to make money on. “Then what’s the business model? Who gives a shit! We do business models all day. The web can have something that’s just disposable fun,” co-founder Rich Ziade wrote in the company blog. And it is.
Imagine that! Fun is so rare these days, at least online. Between the humorless scolds on Twitter and the omnivorousness of advertisers hoovering up every scrap of your personal data, it’s hard to remember what the web used to look like and what its original purpose was. The whole point was to fuck around with your friends. Turns out it’s still fun!