The brief story of Yo says more about the problems with the tech industry and media than it does about the app’s creators. The virtually content-free messaging app – users can simply send the word “Yo!” to a contact with a single tap – has sparked thousands of words of debate on whether it’s the dumb successor to Facebook’s poke function or a means of context dependent communication perfect for our attention-deficit age.
Along the way the story has snowballed into a tale of $1.2 million in investment with TechCrunch finding space in its several thousand word writeup to ponder the etymology of the word “yo” itself.
This column itself is part of the problem. I’m merely the latest person to leap onto the case of the one button app and grasp for meaning. There is very little to grab onto. According to Business Insider, Moshe Hogeg, the CEO of Israeli app developers Mobli, wanted an incredibly simple way to get in touch with his wife and assistant and badgered his employee, Or Arbel to make it. Yo is that solution – a virtual doorbell.
The app spiralled into the latest tech industry obsession thanks to the attention of perennial app hound Robert Scoble. He shared it with his army of Facebook friends and one of them posted it to Product Hunt. Suddenly Yo was a craze.
Talk of Yo raising that $1.2 million round seems to be little more than talk at the moment with even Hogeg himself not having transferred the $200,000 he’s pledged. Still, memories of Color, the photo-sharing turned video-sharing app that did nothing but raised $41 million in funding make over $1 million for Yo seem almost quaint.
Still, that an app this simple and function-free, so basic that Apple initially rejected it from the App Store, has gained so much attention should worry us. It illustrates how wrapped up in irony and novelty the tech press has generally become. The speed of the perpetual silly season hype-cycle means we’ve already gone from overblown Yo! think pieces to the stories on its demise at the first reports of hacking appeared.
Of course, Yo is easily dismissed as a passing fad but the credence that the industry has given it makes tech look sillier than ever. Marc Andreessen attempted to justify the potential importance of the app in one of his now infamous tweet storms, claiming: “There’s a fascinating aspect lots of people are missing. Yo is an instance of ‘one-bit communication’ – a message with no context other than the fact it exists. Other instances of one-bit communication: police siren, flashing stop light, ‘open’ sign, light turned on, taxicab roof indicator lit.”
That kind of overthinking seems especially ludicrous in the case of something like Yo but it’s replicated with thousands of other apps that are lauded as game changers for our society. The tech industry is often hampered by hubris and Yo is just a sign of how silly it can be. It should be a red light to the pseuds of Silicon Valley but like most of those millions of yo notifications, I suspect it will be ignored.