Yo Tries To Make Itself Useful With Photo And Link Alerts From 150 Sources

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“It was just a way to annoy your friends” Yo co-founder Or Arbel tells me. His minimalist messenger hit 3.5 million users at its peak thanks to the mainstream press’ sudden fascination with an app that only let you send people the word “Yo”. Most of those users quickly evaporated because Yo wasn’t very useful. Yet.

But today Yo launches what Arbel says was the plan all along, a way to subscribe to photos and links but no words from sources you might not care enough about to download a whole separate app. The Yo Store is free, and offers alerts from 150 services including BuzzFeed, NBA, Coinbase, TechCrunch, MTV, and weird-looking cat Lil Bub.

So while Yo started as the quintessential unessential app, it’s now saving you from installing others you’ll rarely use.

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Arbel refused my repeated requests for any stats about Yo’s active user count, but after its meteoric rise and fall in June, Yo was able to raise $1.5 million. That gave it the resources to build out its real purporse: the Yo API. In August it released the Yo Index to help users discover services to get Yo with links or photos from, but it was clunky and relatively uncurated.

By contrast, the revamped Yo Store only features services that will abide by rules demanding they only send high-quality, infrequent alerts or ones users specifically requested. This keeps one Yo source from pissing in everyone else’s pool and driving users away. You can access it the Yo Store here and then interact with accounts via Yo’s iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and Chrome apps.

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Arbel laments that “A lot of people think of Yo as the same stupid app. It’s actually way more than that.” Here are some highlights from the alerts you can get from the Yo store:

  • Coinbase – Send a Yo to Coinbase for the current bitcoin price, and it will Yo you back with a link to info if the price changes more than 10% in a day
  • ProductHunt – Get a Yo for any product that reaches over 500 upvotes
  • TechCrunch – Get a Yo with a link to any TechCrunch article that receives over 250 retweets, so you only see the most popular posts
  • Lonely Planet Local – Yo it to get tips about places to visit near your current location.

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Yo’s goal for now is to build up the platform’s audience and prove it’s not useless. If it can do that, Arbel thinks it can monetize since news outlets and brands are already trying to pay it to be promoted at the top of the Yo Store. But “We need to be much bigger before we start to charge for it” he says.

New Yo embodies two important mobile trends. The first is using minimalism to removes friction between users and information. We’re hitting our bandwidth limit in terms of apps.

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 10.03.26 AMRather than download a bloated app all about the NBA when you just want the highlights, Yo can help. As Matt Hartman describes, Yo could replace the need for overly specific apps from brands, events, or brick & mortar stores. Yo could alert you when your table is ready rather than a physical buzzer, let you quickly form a connection with a service to try it out before downloading its app, or be a button for Internet Of Things devices. It’s a similar concept to what If This Then That (IFTTT) is chasing.

Second, mobile messaging apps are becoming portals, and so is Yo.

The app stores are overcrowded and content is fragmented across too many channels. Tracking down quality sources and remembering to keep up with them is a chore. But Yo provides a curated marketplace for finding information delivered through a centralized channel. If Snapchat Discover is a portal, for short-form content, Yo is a portal for minimalist information.

Not everything needs a dedicated mobile experience. Whether you can’t find an app, don’t want one, or a service doesn’t have one, Yo could still get you the information you need.

If you’re at SXSW, come see my fireside chat with Yo co-founder Or Arbel about “Dumb App Design: Yo And The Magic Of Minimalism” on Monday, March 16th at 12:30pm at the JW Marriot, Salon 7 at 110 E 2nd St.