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Catching Up with the Creator of Yo: ‘It’s Our Job to Show That It’s Not a Joke’

Yo logo
Yo logo

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.

Q: So you’re framing it more as an informational app rather than a social app?

A: It’s definitely not a messaging app. And it’s definitely not a link-sharing app.

Q: What are some of the most interesting ideas you’ve heard for the index?

A: One of the integrations we saw allows you to authenticate yourself for a website using Yo. You go on the website, and you tell the website your username. It sends you a Yo, and you send it a Yo back, and it knows it’s you. It’s in the works; it’s called YoAuth.

The Craigslist service for Yo is really useful. People are searching apartments, especially in San Francisco. The market is crazy, so people want to get notified the second that a new apartment is getting listed on Craigslist. All you need to do is go on Craigslist, search for an apartment, then copy that URL/paste it, and type your Yo username. From then on, you get a listing in the form of a Yo when something new pops up on that search. If you tap it, you’ll see the new listing.

Q: Last time we talked, you said you would have a more simple way for people to remove their info from your databases once they deleted the Yo app. [Previously, people needed to email Yo directly to make that happen.] Have you made any progress?

A: No, it’s still by email.

Q: Are you planning to do something that makes it easier?

A: Eventually, yes.

Q: Do you have a timeline?

A: I don’t.

Q: Do you feel any sort of pressure after being so talked up in the press?

A: Yeah, of course there is a lot of pressure. Everyone wants to see whether the Yo app is just a joke, whether it’s an app that everyone will forget about after two months. It’s our job to show that it’s not a joke, it’s a real company, it’ll be a real product with a real market. We’re working very hard to make things happen. And I think we’re kind of succeeding with that. It’s already been two months since everything exploded and we’re still here. People are starting to understand that it’s not just an app to annoy your friends, that there’s actually a real vision behind it. We are on our way to successfully bring this vision to reality.


You can download the new Yo for iPhone and Android.

Follow Alyssa Bereznak on Twitter or email her.