In which I over-analyse the ‘Yo’ app

If you haven’t seen it yet, the Yo app (iOS only) is an app that allows you to do one thing, and one thing only: send a message saying ‘Yo’ to people you’ve added to your contacts. Here’s a quick 1-minute overview, including Colbert’s, er, insights:

It’s worth noting that the ‘200,000 users’ figure they quote in the video is now over 1 million. Like Snapchat (an app where messages self-destruct), my interest isn’t in the app itself, but the type of service it provides. We thought Twitter added rigorous constraints with its 140-characters, but hat’s nothing compared to the limited affordances of an app that allows no text-entry.

I was an early adopter of Twitter, a social network that people ridiculed and didn’t ‘get’ that in the beginning. The same may be true of Yo. As some commentators have mentioned, the perfect use for a one-touch app like Yo is the smartwatch and other wearables. They haven’t really taken off yet, but when they do, we’ll be seeing a lot more super-simple apps. It’s the third wave of apps: mobile + local + social.

At the moment, there’s no added value with Yo; it’s effectively a digital high-five. It’s likely to start coming into its own when mashed up with other data and services. For example, if we re-conceive sending a ‘Yo’ as a quick way to show your location to a selected group, the the advantages start to become clear. Also, it’s possible, given the devaluation of ‘Like’ as a currency, that a ‘Yo’ could demonstrate the places/stuff you like to your friends.

Whether or not the Yo app takes off, I believe it shows us that acknowledging other people’s existence, and sustaining relationships in the most minimal way possible is still a valuable thing to do. “Yo”, like “alright?” in the part of the world I live, is an ambiguous greeting. It can be entirely self-contained recognition of the other, or it can be a prelude to a longer conversation. There’s a lot of social possibilities and potential depth to such a technologically-simple app.

Comments? Questions I’m @dajbelshaw on Twitter, or you can send me a Yo at

You can also discuss this post on Hacker News.


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