My family has actually been using the now famous Yo app for the past few months. My son, who is very adept at finding strange and oftentimes inappropriate things online, turned everyone on to it. And it’s a really fun application, if not a bit heartwarming too. My wife would always smile when she gets an unsolicited “Yo!” from one of our kids, or even one of their friends who we also know. It’s kind of a way of saying, “hey, I’m thinking of you, so, I don’t know, yeah, like whatever, so…Yo.” The application almost perfectly encapsulates how teenagers communicate.
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Which is why recent events surrounding the app are kind of sad. And educational.
Yo, and its founders Moshe Hogeg and Or Arbel, became famous this past week. By now you’ve probably heard the story? Hogeg wanted an application that he could use to get the attention of his wife and assistant. Arbel, an engineer who worked with Hogeg (at Mobli, the successful photo and video sharing service that Hogeg also started) whipped up the Yo app in about eight hours. After a few attempts they finally got it on Apple’s app store. It became popular. Really popular. According to the story noted above: “The app is currently used by 500,000 people who have sent more than 4 million Yo notifications; it’s one of the top fives apps in the iPhone’s App Store. Yos are used as verifications (“Yo, I made it home from school”), acts of thoughtfulness (“Yo, I’m thinking of you”) and as alerts (“Yo, I need your help”). Hogeg’s wife, for example, will Yo him daily to let him know she loves him. His 2-year-old son, on the other hand, uses Yo as a toy and sends the noisy notifications back and forth between Hogeg’s two phones.”
And then it was revealed that while the startup still has no money in the bank, financial statements, a business plan or any type of organizational infrastructure that most investors would require, a handful of risk-takers (including Hogeg) committed to giving it $1.2 million. The financing was justifiably criticized/praised/lampooned by many. Steven Colbert parodied it on the Daily Show. People in the venture community made fun of it. The well-known tech blogger Robert Scoble, after being asked to review the application, said “This is the stupidest, most addictive app I’ve ever seen in my life.” The Yo phenomenon was reported around the world. The media ate it up. The number of downloads rocketed. Its founders were famous.
That was the fun part. Here’s the sad part: over the weekend, the Yo app got hacked.
According to this TechCrunch report, a few college students claimed that they “…can get any Yo user’s phone number. We can spoof Yos from any users, and we can spam any user with as many Yos as we want. We could also send any Yo user a push notification with any text we want (though we decided not to do that.)” The same report also warned of other hackers changing the “Yo” to music (oh no! Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”) and stealing user identities. This had to be dismaying for the company’s founders. They admitted to a “security problem.”
This is not just a security problem. This is a catastrophe. Why? Because even as I was reading these reports online, I was also receiving actual, real-life confirmation of the problem by members of my own family. They all started to receive dozens and dozens of unknown, unsolicited “Yo’s” from fake users. Suddenly, the fun, heart-warming and even useful free application became an annoyance. I watched as they each, one by one, shut down the “Yo” app and deleted it. By Sunday night, the familiar sound of “Yo’s” had become silent in my house. And I could almost picture the same scene unfolding in homes around the world.
This is the end of Yo. Why? People are fickle. There are too many other distractions, too many other fun apps to play with. Teenagers and Millenials who are known to have instantaneous attention spans, will get annoyed with receiving unsolicited “Yo’s” and delete the app. The hackers will win this one.
Looking to build that popular app and get a million bucks for it? Know this: the Internet is harsh. People are jealous and vindictive. They will be outraged by your good fortune. Smart people will want to always show that they’re smarter than you. If you’re looking for media attention, be careful of the consequences. It’s a double edged sword: on the one hand a great story can result in a lot of new users. But it will also create an inevitable army of haters who will want to destroy you just to prove they can. There is no such thing as an app that can be created in 8 hours and raise a million bucks. Quality apps need to be tested and secure before launched to the mainstream.
Yo, it was a good ride.