August 4th, 2014
My favorite app right now is Yo.
For the uninitiated, Yo is an app for iOS/Android where you can send people a “Yo” via push notification. There’s hardly an interface or even an in-app experience. It’s all about the push, quite literally. Do yourself a favor and download it, and you too can be part of a tiny moment in tech history.
Let me be clear: I am not a Yo power-user. I love the app, but in that way where you love something because of what it stands for, not because you actually love it. Like Starbucks, for example. I can take or leave the drinks, but oh wow that Howard Schultz “third place” philosophy still to this day gives me chills. Point is, if you send me a Yo I may or may not return the courtesy.
But that isn’t what’s important.
I would like to thank Yo for getting everyone excited about notifications again.
You see, the historical attitude toward push notifications has been an interesting one. They are often seen as an afterthought, rather than a core part of the in-app experience (gaming is an exception) and are treated as such. They have been derided as too invasive to be useful, or simply a tool to drive DAUs. Their implementation is technically non-trivial. And on and on.
There are very VERY few apps that have centered their entire existence, and core interactions, around notifications. Similar to Yo, I too am a believer that notifications are their own kind of canvas. See Wut for another example. This is the #1 reason why I think Yo is exciting.
Think about it this way: most messaging is very invasive. It’s active and distracting. There is an implied counter-action. You text me, I text you back. You email me, I email you back. I post a photo/status/tweet/snap and sometimes you comment, like, heart, reply, favorite, etc. Even though you don’t react every single time, every system relies on your participation. You get the idea.
Can there be a platform where counter-action is not only discouraged but impossible? Where consumption is truly meant to be passive? It’s very hard, if not downright impossible, to create network effects when there is no implied counter-action. I’m open to ideas here, and in fact would love to hear some.
Let’s take a look at an effective use of Yo.
Through the magic of the internet, I stumbled on “Product Hunt, Yo!” which is an app that uses the Yo API to alert the user when a product reaches over 100 upvotes on Product Hunt, an amazing new community for product discovery. Simply add “PRODUCTHUNTED” to your friends list and that’s it. The alert is simple and light. Here’s what it looks like:
It simply is.
Although this interaction is delightful and elegant, I struggle to figure out how this translates for humans. I think the potential is more something like IFTTT but about 100x more simple and consumer-friendly. I’m not sure how sending someone a “Yo” really has any utility at all (sorry), because my hope for digital communications among people is that they evolve to become MORE nuanced, not less. This does not contradict the need for a product centered around extremely simple notifications, however. I’m just not sure they are meant to be among people. And that, I think, is the main challenge for Yo. They haven’t yet solved this issue.
If I were to pick a side, though, I would still say that Yo is stupid brilliant. To expose the potential of notifications in a novel way is admirable, though IMO they are at the point where they have figured out that selfies are a thing, but haven’t yet created Snapchat.
Though someone will, no doubt.