The Yo. App is a Master Class in Smart Tech Stupidity

Jacob Harper  |

On April Fool’s Day an app appeared in the iTunes Store that billed itself as the “simplest & most efficient communication tool in the world.” Though the timing was suspect and the claim grandiose to the extreme, the product itself was no joke. It exploded in popularity almost immediately, and on June hit the #1 spot on the charts.

The app is called Yo. and it’s concept is so absurdly minimalist that it seems like an Onion jab at Silicon Valley’s expense. But it proves once again that sometimes the simplest business plan is the best business plan, even if it’s exceedingly stupid.

Because Yo. does exactly one thing. You hit a button, and Yo. texts the person on the other end  a “Yo.” In the parlance of Yo culture, it “yos” them.  

That’s it. That’s all it does.

The Pessimist’s Yo

If you’re a Luddite prone to ascribing to the line of thinking that tech is dumbing down communication, Yo. is proof positive that Silicon Valley would like to see us reduced to simpering button-pushers who make yapping Chihuahuas look nuanced and erudite.

And consider how Yo. founder Or Arbel talks about how tech is too literary already, telling the New Yorker that “a hundred and forty characters is way too much these days.” Twitter’s (TWTR) product gets criticized for a lot of things, but being verbose usually isn’t one of them.

Or take an alternate cynic’s perspective. Yo. isn’t even about the inevitable arms race to the simplest communication method, to becoming a “zero character communication tool.”  Yo. is about laziness masquerading as minimalism.

Arbel himself conceded in his New Yorker interview that it only took him eight hours to code the app.  Even the Yo. logo is a study in slacky Whateverism, consisting only of a purple square.

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Lax design also contributed to a massive security flaw in Yo. that allowed hackers to break into the system and send out unsolicited Yos to whoever they pleased. Also, it granted them access to the cell database. This is similar to what happened to Snapchat on New Year’s, when the hot messaging app negated to properly securitize their product, exposing thousands of users personal info in the process. Snapchat was able to rebound, thanks to its already sizable user base. But a company like Yo. that is already pegged as a fad stands on much shakier ground.

All this adds up to Yo. just being one giant put-on, at best a tech shyster’s grand fleecing of idiots obsessed with the new Big Next Thing, or at worst the apex of the supposed tech bubble.

The Optimist’s Yo

But should  Yo. be criticized just because it took the founder no time to make and it only does one thing? Isn’t that criticism reminiscent of naysayers who scoff at Mark Rothko paintings and say “my kid could have done that?”

The answer of course, is “but did they?” Any programmer could have come up with Yo. Even more so, any carbon-based being that has the most tenuous grasp of language could have come up with the concept. But did they?

A chair doesn’t need to be complex to work. Chairmakers don’t get brownie points for making a chair that has multi-platform functionality. As long as you can sit in it, it does it can claim that is does its chairly duties.

To be sure, a chair can be used for other things than sitting. And Yo. doesn’t just mean “hi.” The Yo. founder envisions that the app can be used to convey multiple messages. To tell someone you’ve arrived, to ask for a response, just to say hi. Yo yo yo.

Communication can be complex. Russian novels have their place in the world. But sometimes, communication consists of only a nod, or a wave, or a quick "yo!" A social media app that apes that function doesn't seem so outlandish.

Final Yos

Then again, simple does not necessarily mean “good.” But for the time being, it does mean “popular.” In just two months Yo. has grown from one man’s eight hour work session to court $1.2 million in funding.

Does that mean Yo. is set to become the next Snapchat or Twitter? Rhetorical questions like that, of course, can almost always be answered with a resounding “no.” But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place in the world for technology that does what it’s supposed to do. Yo. does what it says on the tin. It says “Yo.” And if that’s all people need it to do, and there’s utility for it in the future, it doesn’t need to do anything more than that.


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