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Soon, Businesses, Blogs, and the Cheesecake Factory May Be Able to ‘Yo’ You

Alyssa Bereznak
National Correspondent, Technology
June 23, 2014

Yo — the company behind a stupidly simple app of the same name that went viral last week — is looking to expand. The company announced that it had been downloaded 1 million times over the past few days and that it is opening itself up to outside developers, so that other digital services would be able to integrate Yo’s notification platform into their own apps.

That’s right: Soon, any business with a website or an app will be able to ping you with a Yo. 

For the unacquainted, Yo is an iOS and Android app that allows you to tap your friends’ names and send them push notifications that read, “Yo.” (See my run-through of the app here). Despite criticism from the media over its $1 million valuation, and the fact that the app was hacked by three college students shortly after it went viral, signup rates have rocketed, and a total of 15 million Yos have been sent within the network.

The company’s Monday morning announcement cited a few possible ways that Yo could be used within other apps, including “sending alerts from blogs about news stories,” messages from “small and local businesses,” and “delivery notifications.”

But Yo’s CEO Or Arbel (referred to as “CeYO” by his press people) told Yahoo Tech that he “can see it used for basically everything.” He imagined a few specific instances: a Yo from your local dry cleaner when your clothes are ready to be picked up; a Yo from your airline when boarding has started for a flight; a Yo from your Starbucks barista when your order is ready; a Yo from your favorite news service when there’s a breaking story; or a Yo from The Cheesecake Factory when your table is ready. 

But why not just use lock screen notifications from the apps themselves? For each of these examples, Arbel cites a general frustration with the bulkiness or inefficiency of the typical alerts that come from these institutions. News or sports apps send you a “whole text message to read,” Starbucks “asks your name and shouts it” when your order is ready, The Cheesecake Factory gives you “this huge beeper that you need to hold onto that doesn’t even fit in your pocket.”

Ultimately Arbel thinks his app will catch on by paring down the collection of apps a person must download and run on her phone. Arbel also argues that a Yo notification, in its simplicity, carries less weight and responsibility than a typical push notification. 

“It’s really less distracting,” Arbel said. “In the middle of the day, if you get a Yo from the World Cup, you know there was a goal. If you want to see the goal, you go onto the website. If you don’t want to see it, you don’t have to. If you get a notification from, let’s say, ESPN, it says a whole bunch of text and it requires your attention to open the app: Right now there is a goal, blah blah blah blah blah, open the app to see more. Then you have this annoying badge number on the app icon. You feel the urge to open the app, read the message, and exit it. If, in the middle of the day, you are busy, it can be distracting.”

In addition to opening Yo’s API to other developers, Arbel also made a recent hire: one of the three college students who hacked his app to reveal the phone numbers and usernames of people who used Yo’s “find friends” feature. “He’s really good.” 

But Arbel has yet to address a larger concern, first pointed out by the Washington Post, that a person’s information is not erased from the company’s databases when she deletes the app. Currently, the only way to ensure that your information is completely wiped is to email contact@justyo.co with a request.

I mentioned that to Arbel and asked when he planned to release an easier way to do that.

“Actually in a couple of hours,” Arbel said. “I think it will be really easy … what we will do … let me think about it. I need to think about it. About how we’re going to do it. But I need to emphasize that right now the database is closed and hackers can’t read it like they used to a few days ago.” 

“A couple of hours” may seem ambitious, but don’t put it past him. Arbel apparently built the whole app in eight hours

Follow Alyssa Bereznak on Twitter or email her.