The mobile messaging world is abuzz with a new app called Yo that simplifies conversations to the bare minimum. What does it do? Choose a username, add your contacts by typing in theirs, and you can send messages to each other consisting of the word “Yo.”
No variations on the word, either. It’s a “Yo” or bust, along with a computerized voice that says the same. The popularity of the free app, which simplifies interactions to the absurd, comes at a time when mobile messengers like it are being bought up by companies for enormous sums of money. Viber was bought by Rakuten for nearly $1 billion, and Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) is shelling out $19 billion for WhatsApp.
Life Before Us, LLC, the development team behind the app, says that Yo has 50,000 users as of Thursday, who have sent the same message more than 4 million times: “yo.” The development team behind it has already raised $1 million in capital funding, despite critics like a U.K. Guardian reviewer who calls it “glorious, simple, and stupid.” A TechCrunch reviewer says the app is a fad, kind of like Rebecca Black’s “Friday” song, “it’s so stupid, you can’t quite believe it actually was made and put out for public consumption.”
Yo can be used to do more than just say “yo” to friends, depending on the context of who is sending the message, and why. Its developers have a number of potential uses in mind:
1. A blog can Yo the readers whenever a new post is published. Imagine getting a Yo From PRODUCTHUNT.
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2. An online store can Yo its customers whenever a new product is offered. Imagine getting a Yo From JENNASHOPIFY.
3. A football club can Yo the fans whenever the team scores a touchdown. Imagine getting a Yo From THE49ERS.
4. An ice-cream truck can Yo the kids when it’s around the corner.… Imagine getting a Yo From THEICECREAMTRUCK.
Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen said Thursday on Twitter that people who claim Yo is stupid are missing the point. Its strength is in its simplicity, said Andreessen, who sits on the boards of companies like Facebook and eBay Inc. (NASDAQ:EBAY)
“Yo is an instance of ‘one-bit communication’,” he said. A message sent “with no content other than the fact that it exists. Yes or no. Yo or no yo. Other instances of one-bit communication: Police siren, flashing stop light, ‘Open’ sign, light turned on, taxicab roof indicator lit."
The “most interesting” use of one-bit communication is the missed call, he said, where in places like Africa, Asia and the Philippines, users use missed calls as a way to send a pre-agreed message without being charged for it, as they would with an actual call or text message. In Bangladesh, missed calls make up more than 70 percent of mobile traffic, and Andreessen said that the “hilarity around Yo” reveals two “problematic biases.”
“Bias that one-bit [communication] isn't useful, and bias that all markets are like the US,” he said. “I'm not saying Yo will be the next $100B social media powerhouse. But instant dismissal makes little sense; let's learn & keep minds open.”