Why is Yo? Who invested in it? What is happening in the world?
First, let’s define the terms. This new-ish app Yo claims to be “The simplest & most efficient communication tool in the world,” a “single-tap zero character communication tool.” You install it on your iPhone or your Android phone, you let it access your contacts, then you can send one text message to a friend. That’s right, there’s only one message to send: “Yo.” You can send it multiple times, but it never says anything else. You can respond to a Yo with another Yo, or send a new Yo to someone else. And down the rabbit hole we yo.
Let me stipulate that in the tech world anything with messaging is hot. Single-service apps are also hot. The surface of the sun is hot... that’s where I would like to fling myself rather than take Yo seriously.
Here’s the problem: there is simply no need to make an app to send a text message that says “Yo.” You could text “Yo” to someone in the same amount of time it loads up the app to do it for you. There’s even less reason to make an API that sends you a Yo whenever a goal is scored at the World Cup (that exists! really!). Yo is just a push notification in search of context, an IFTTT recipe that someone made into a standalone app – it is the opposite of innovation.
If it’s not innovation, maybe it’s a sign of some enormous tech bubble? Someone gave its creator $1.2-million dollars to develop it into a company. A million! A guy moved from Israel to San Francisco to build this thing. Tech writers and analysts have been tweeting about it! It must be real. Why hasn’t anyone sent me a Yo? I must not be cool. Oh gawd, I will give my home address and social security number to anyone who will validate my coolness with a Yo. (Also, we don’t buy all the tech bubble talk.)
Or Arbel, the Co-Founder and “CEYO” at Yo posted on Twitter on June 13 “just setting up my Yo.” This is a shameless copy/nod to Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey’s first tweet on Twitter “just setting up my twttr.” I think this tells you where Arbel is at: Twitter was once a dumb idea about posting your lunch details online (okay, that was always a stupid slander, but stick with me) and is now a billion-dollar public company. That could be Yo! All the usual questions about growth curve are satisfied by its publicity surge (apparently a great gust of hot air has propelled Yo to more than 160,000 downloads). All the usual questions about monetization are too gauche for this early-stage chunk of genius.
Techcrunch, champion of all dippy startup ideas, wrote a long wandering piece describing the reasons why Yo is somehow a sign of the death of digital dualism, the catch-phrase for a ridiculous argument about whether things that happen digitally exist in their own separate reality or not. (Techcrunch contains multitudes though, here's a pitch for an ambivalent counter app: Meh) There was also a digression on the origins of the word "Yo" that led to this gem quote:
“Yo already means different things to different people, and it can have a different meaning depending on who you say it to and how you say it,” says Arbel. “That ambiguity was exactly what we were looking for in an app that is all about context.”
Arbel told Haaretz he got the idea from his old boss, Moshe Hogeg:
“Moshiko asked me to develop an app for him that would have just one big button that could send a push notification to his assistant,” says Arbel, who holds a degree in computer science from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. He constantly needed her during the day and having to text or call was irksome, Arbel explains.
So, Yo is apparently the intercom button from Mad Men, but instead of Don Draper or Roger Sterling shouting, it’s you and a bunch of other slobs texting “Yo” to each other. Like Uber, but for Yo-ing.
Most baffling is the insistence on “Yo.” What did “yo” ever do to Arbel? Children of the 80s automatically finish any sentence beginning “yo” one of two ways: “Yo, dude” or “Yo Joe!” Somehow the CEO, sorry, CEYO (who is also the only employee) seems to think this one word justifies an app and a business. It could just have easily been one of the following:
- Bork, or perhaps Flapdoodle (maybe not that last one)
Entirely coincidentally, the United States Supreme Court came down hard on what does not constitute an invention as regards software patents in a Thursday ruling. Writing the majority opinion Justice Clarence Thomas explained: “merely requiring generic computer implementation fails to transform that abstract idea into a patent-eligible invention.” In other words, if you can do something now without a computer or a special piece of software (such as saying, texting or sending a video of the word Yo) merely making code or a process to do that pre-existing task does not mean you are an inventor. Now even the absurd world of patent law has more common sense than this app.
Yo is not an invention. It performs a slightly more complex function than those “fart button” apps that arrived at the dawn of Apple’s App Store. You press a button, it does one thing, you titter silently at your desk and you close the app. I can’t believe I spent so much time discussing it. I’m sorry. If I were smarter I would have written this Yo Review, which expresses many of the same points only more concisely. Yo.