Trailblazers: Jennifer Dyer and Kiaran Sim give web commenters a voice

The platform allows people to leave audio and video comments on websites — while avoiding online harassment.

Social media has opened up new avenues of communication, but online harassment and cyberbullying have shown that it’s not always positive. 

Almost half of U.S. adults (41%) have personally experienced some form of online harassment, including physical threats, stalking, sexual harassment and sustained harassment, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

So how does online harassment shift when keyboards are replaced with audio and video tools? U.K. television presenter Jennifer Dyer, and U.K. film producer Kiaran Sim aimed to find out in 2015, when they co-founded social media commenting tool Yappa.

The plug-in allows users to leave “yaps,” 30 to 45 second audio or video comments on websites or in online communities with one line of code. Unlike text-based comments, which give users a level of anonymity online, using audio and voice holds people responsible for keeping the comment section respectful, Dyer told Campaign US.

Yappa administrators can customize community standards for users to be flagged for offenses like bullying, hate speech, profanity and pornography, depending on the platform. It’s a feature that allows brands to create their own micro-communities based on their audiences. 

“We have seen a completely different community being built [on Yappa],” Dyer added. “One that is enjoying the freedom of being who they are, and being able to exchange their own opinions. We were born to talk, but we were taught to text.”

Yappa, which operates on a revenue-share model with publishers, also weeds out spam from comments feeds to create more brand-safe environments and help attract advertisers. Yappa also keeps the conversation going on the publisher’s website, instead of directing them to another social media platform.

“We’re allowing brands to take some of the control back from these big social media platforms that have taken that audience and forced them to repurpose them onto new channels, when they've created these beautiful environments on for audiences to be fully immersed in,” Sim said.

Yappa, which has more than 200,000 active users across 2.9 million pages, works with web publishers, podcasters, radio and TV broadcasters and product review sites. In April, the company debuted on iHeartMedia, reaching 270 million people a month, and supported the radio giant’s virtual prom for the class of 2020. NBA star Shaquille O’Neal and football player Rob Gronkowski also hosted a virtual party in June on Yappa, which raised $200,00 for the NAACP and Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

In May, Yappa raised $3.5 million in a Series A round led by Future Media Limited, to expand on its existing features and add new ones, such as a live streaming widget.

But for Dyer and Sim, the journey to success wasn’t always easy. As Black founders, they  faced discrimination in the early days.

“We have British accents, so if we're just talking on the phone you may not be able to determine my ethnicity,” Sim said. “There's been many times where we've had preliminary talks with venture capitalists and they were very excited about the opportunity. Then they see who we are and you can hear a pin drop in the room.”

Dyer added: “As a Black female CEO, it was difficult raising capital, and having access to mentorship, resources and information.It knocks the wind out of you that the wall is so high to jump.”

It’s a common struggle for BIPOC entrepreneurs, as just 1% of Black founders get VC backing.


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