Catching Up with the Creator of Yo: ‘It’s Our Job to Show That It’s Not a Joke’
You might remember Yo, the iOS and Android app whose only function is to send your contact list push notifications that said “Yo.” It went viral in June, when the Internet learned that it was worth an obscene $1 million, and added about 1 million new users in the process.
I argued it was a sign that developers had hit a low point in mobile innovation; others, such as Yahoo Finance’s Jeff Macke, argued that Yo communicated “a piece of information boiled down to its most efficient essence.”
This week, Yo made its first major updates to the app following the big media frenzy: It has added small profiles, which allow you to display your full name and include a photo. You can send and receive links to your contacts and service providers, which are denoted by an * symbol next to the Yo. You can create hashtags to Yo at your friends as a way to spread a cause. And, finally, there’s now an index page where you can find interesting uses for Yo notifications, like YObama, a service that sends you a Yo every time the president makes an executive order. Or InstaYo, which sends you a Yo when an Instagram user of your choice posts a new photo.
It all sounds surprisingly complicated, especially for an app premised on simplicity. Many tech sites pointed out the disconnect of a simple app adding new, potentially confusing, layers, with headlines like “Yo Is Dead, Long Live Yo” and “Yo Is Killing The One Thing That Made It Successful.”
I caught up with Yo founder and CEO Or Arbel to hear him out on the new features. Below, highlights from our chat:
Q: Yo’s latest update, which was made this week, makes it much less simple than its original iteration. Do you think that changes the essence of the app?
A: The main feature we see as most valuable for Yo is the Yo Index, where you can see all the sorts of stuff that you can interact with using Yo. This is where Yo is going to be big. The profile is nice and the hashtags are nice, but we care most about the platform where other products, brands, websites, news outlets, restaurants, and businesses can send you a link or a Yo with a link, or just a Yo to notify you that something happened. You can interact with them by sending them a Yo. That’s where you can see the power of the platform. The Yo Index right now is just a small list of those services, but that list is going to get bigger and bigger. Eventually it’s going to get too big and we’re going to have to reorganize this list so it’ll look like an app store, where you’ll have a Featured section, a Popular section, a location-based section, and you’ll get reviews.
Q: A big part of that index is based on being able to include links to Yos. But it seems like the process of adding a link to a Yo you’re sending to a person is much harder than using the share button in your mobile browser.
A: You’re talking about sending a link from a user to a user. We see the link feature most useful when an account from the index [wants] to send a link. You’re right when you say that sending a link as a user would be easier, just as you said, to tap the share button in the app itself. Although in the future we have plans of embedding a Yo button within websites that says “Share with Yo.” When you tap it, it shows your friends, and you tap it again and it shares the link. But that’s in the future.