The how and the why of Yo


Yo the Word

It’s a simple greeting with a complex etymology. It may come from the Old English and Norwegian words for yes (ġēa and jo, respectively) and was first recorded as a greeting in 1859, though it probably has a longer history. In the U.S., Philadelphia seems to have been pivotal in its spread as slang, demonstrating once again the City of Brotherly Love’s unique role in the evolution of American English.

Yo the App


It’s also one of the simplest apps of all time. Its iOS icon is a blank purple square. The app originally included just one feature – the ability to send the word “Yo” to a friend. You add your friends based on phone numbers or invitations, then tap their name in the app to send them a message that just says “Yo.” But, yo, it has become something else.

Of all the words I would normally text someone, “yo” is not among them – usually “hey” or even “ok” makes the cut instead. I can see how it might be useful to yo at certain times. Say your mom is expecting you at the airport. When you land, you just send her a Yo and she knows everything she needs to. Granted, this requires both of you to have the app installed, so it’s inconvenient at first, but could be a time-saver in the long run.

Yo is barely a messaging service; it’s more like an app that just sends you notifications and nothing else.


Sample Yo notifications in Notification Center

Notification are ways to get attention, which, given the amount of free apps and publications out there (Facebook and BuzzFeed immediately come to mind), is a sort of currency now. Yo doesn’t run ads or monetize in any way, but it’s like a clearinghouse for notifications from others. It’s potentially the ultimate subscription service.

Yo the Index


The Yo Index is a list of sites, services, and brands that are on Yo. If you subscribe to one of them – i.e., add them as friends – then you can interact with actively and/or passively:

  • Actively: you tap to send a Yo and get something in return. For example, you can Yo StumbleUpon to get a random link. You can Yo IFTTT to trigger a recipe such as publishing a Tweet or dimming your Wi-Fi connected Philips Hue lightbulbs.
  • Passively: You can get a Yo every time a site or service has an update. The best examples are the NBA feed, which sends you intermittent news, buzzer-beaters, and rankings. You can also set Yo up as an RSS reader, so that you get a Yo (with a link embedded) each time the feed is updated (similarly, you can set it up to notify you each time a YouTube channel is updated). TechCrunch also has a great trigger – it will Yo you each time a certain tweet gets retweeted at least 200 times.

An example of the NBA’s index of Yo services, with different triggers listed.

When you Yo someone/something, you can do three things:

  • Single tap: This just sends the standard “Yo”
  • Double tap: This sends your location – it can be used to, say, retrieve a list of nearby coffee shops
  • Tap and hold: This sends a link (whatever is on the clipboard)

The interface is a little tricky at first, especially since it’s just a bunch of big colored bars. Once you get used to it, though, Yo can be an interesting way to stay on top of things that you otherwise have to hunt around for in apps. You can be notified when a certain Instagram account posts a new photo, when Marc Andreessen starts a tweetstorm, or when the LA Times publishes a new infographic.

Yo the Conclusion


The Yo home screen with the list of subscribed feeds, settings in the lower right and the Yo Index in the lower left.

The Yo home screen with the list of subscribed feeds, settings in the lower right and the Yo Index in the lower left.

This post is almost over. Yo is free so it may be worth your time if you’re someone who likes to tinker with technology and is bored by your current set of apps. It started out as a joke, but, yo, a lot of important things seemed silly at first too, like Dropbox, Facebook, and BuzzFeed.

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