Betaworks invests in Yo, the punchline that grew up
Here's some more proof that I wasn't crazy for thinking that Yo could become something more than the laughing stock of the technology press: Betaworks, which today announced that it has invested in the company's seed round, says there are more than 2,000 developers fiddling with the Yo API to add lightweight notifications to their products or build simple utilities for the 2 million people who have downloaded the app. Yo is fast becoming more than just a punchline.
For those of you who haven't heard of Yo, it's a simple application that allows its users to send one-word notifications to their friends. That might not seem like much, but the app has since been repurposed so users can receive notifications when a website is updated, to activate Internet-connected devices, and to otherwise effect change in systems that require a little nudge to work. Yo might seem funny, but it's surprisingly useful despite its simplicity.
I made that same point when the Wall Street Journal first reported on Yo's plan to become the notification system for everything from pizza joints to laundry services at the end of June:
This is the part where I would usually make a snarky comment about how Silicon Valley is just filled with people who plan to make a few bucks off investors who don’t have anything better to do with their cash. There’s only one problem: assuming the company abandons its namesake and focuses on the notifications themselves, Yo might actually become surprisingly appealing.
People want to know what’s happening, and notifications are the easiest way for them to learn about the world around them without devoting their full attention to their smartphones. That is why people have purchased smartwatches despite all of their obvious shortcomings, it’s why Apple plans to improve notifications in iOS 8, and it’s why Yo might just be on to something. That point was made further when Fast Company reported that Yo could be used to receive notifications when rocket strikes occur in Israel. As I wrote when that report was published,
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the average young company become something more than a novelty, but I think that in Yo’s case, offering a war-time emergency alert service makes it much more than a trivial distraction.
Yo’s incorporation into other services still doesn’t meet the original criteria set in my post — I want a notification service for mundane businesses like pizza shops and laundromats — but it shows that Yo is making progress and could eventually become something meaningful. I'm still waiting for Yo to branch out into real-world notifications to a point where someone like me, who lives in the boonies instead of on the coasts, can get a simple notification when my pizza is on its way. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised -- though I would certainly be disappointed -- if Yo abandoned its real-world aspirations and focused on its digital tools. But attracting the attention of 2,000 developers and 2 million consumers isn't anything to sneeze at, no matter what Yo's plan is, and should be enough to convince its detractors it's serious.