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Yo app: Silicon Valley gimmick or the next big thing?

Michael Santoli
·Michael Santoli

Many great technology companies started out looking hopelessly limited to their many naysayers. Amazon (AMZN) was – QUOTE – just a bookseller. Facebook (FB) was….just a college facebook used to rate classmates’ looks. And Twitter (TWTR)? A glorified group-text tool.
So is the one-note messaging app Yo also being hopelessly underestimated by the hoardes of critics who derided it as the ultimate in gimmicky Silicon Valley absurdity when it was revealed this summer that it was valued by private investors at $10 million.
The smartphone app right now does nothing but send the single word “Yo” to another person. This elemental so-called single-bit message could mean anything or nothing.
In most cases it’s probably intended to mean “I’m here” or “Hi,” or – at least for now – “I’m sending you a Yo message in an ironic way because you and I both agree that this Yo thing is ridiculous.”
I compared it initially to the system I used as a kid to let my parents know I’d arrived at a destination- use a payphone to call home and let it ring only once, to save the price of the call. I also instinctively felt that any new product that was met with near-universal dismissal and ridicule – yet had smart people behind it – probably was more than meets they eye and was poised for some kind of second act.
A Wall Street Journal tech columnist today lays out a pretty compelling case that Yo is a clever and elegant communications protocol that he suggests could be bigger than Twitter one day.
In this version, Yo’s key strength is as a means of accessing your smartphones notifications alerts – those messages that show up on the lock screen of your phone. This point of access means a user might soon be able to Yo a Web link, or users might subscribe to publications via Yo, or companies might use Yo to let you know a service is available right where you are. All this is possible via Yo without sharing a phone number and using standard text apps.
This may be too optimistic a view, and of course such a simple app can easily be copied and competed with. Yet Yo has already moved first, been downloaded 1 million times and has around 50,000 active users. That’s a pretty good head start.
And the other thing Yo has going for it is the very fact that it was dismissed out of hand upon its debut. When almost everyone immediately agrees that something is absurd – how can it possibly fail?

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