By Julia Carrie Wong
JUNE 19, 2014 — On Wednesday morning, news broke that a silly little app called “Yo” had raised $1 million in financing. Yo is a messaging application that only allows you to message one word: Yo. You select a recipient, and the app sends them a push notification that says, “Yo.” It took just eight hours to build, but the founder, Or Arbel, has moved to San Francisco and is hiring staff for the company.
Besides achieving (at least for now) that delightfully Silicon Valley-centric alchemy of turning nonsense into money, Yo is notable for its audacious assault on every stricture of syntax and language. Yo is a noun that refers both to the company itself and the company’s product (“Imagine getting a Yo from THEICECREAMTRUCK,” Yo suggests to users). Yo is a verb (“A football club can Yo the fans whenever the team scores a touchdown”) and the verb’s subject (job applicants are directed to “Yo us Yo”) or perhaps an adverb. I’m honestly not sure.
The meaning of “Yo” changes depending on the relationship between the people exchanging Yos. Yo was originally designed when Moshe Hogeg, a tech CEO who was Arbel’s boss at the time, “wanted an easy way to tell his personal assistant he needed to talk to her.” So “Yo” in that case was the equivalent of a “hey you girl,” a bell pull, a throat clear, or a grunt. (For more on how apps are affecting communication between workers and bosses, read my report on house cleaning apps and domestic workers here.)
Mr. Hogeg also uses “Yo” with his wife, so that, according to Arbel, “she knows he’s thinking about her, so she doesn’t bother him any more [sic].” In this case, “Yo” appears to mean something in between “Yes dear,” “I love you,” “Not now dear,” and “Why did we get married in the first place.”
For the common man who lacks a personal assistant and passive aggressive relationship with his wife, the app suggests several other possible uses upon download:
I, for one, am delighted by the advent of this form of communication. Forthwith, a list of Yos I intend to send, with the specific meaning of my Yos appended.
YO* –> California State Legislature
*Thanks for killing Ellis Act reform in the state legislature yesterday. I’m sure the donations you all receive from real estate interests are worth more than the sleep you may or may not lose thinking about tenants like Mary Elizabeth Phillips, a 98-year old tenant facing eviction from her San Francisco home of 50 years.
YO* –> Real Estate Speculators
*Congratulations on your newfound wealth. You really did a lot to earn it.
YO* –> Mayor Ed Lee
*You do a great job representing the interests of the tech industry at the expense of the rest of San Francisco. Keep it up. I bet Ron Conway has a brilliant golden parachute ready for you when this is all over.
YO* –> Ron Conway
*Remember when you said you were going to “take our city back” from progressives? Buying a mayor was a good move. Kudos.
YO* –> San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency
*I’m really impressed with the way you’ve pushed your workers to take a cut in take-home pay after years of wage freezes; let tech company shuttles break state law with impunity while punishing poor people who can’t afford a fare; and used bureaucratic maneuvers to repeal Sunday parking meters without environmental review. You are everything that’s horrifying about how democracy ends up (not) working.
YO* –> Working-class San Franciscans
*Haven’t seen you in a while. How’s Contra Costa County treating you?
YO* –> Tech Industry
*Brilliant move to give big(gish) donations to charity to distract us from the fact that you don’t pay any goddamn taxes. Taxes are outdated and subject to pesky democratic processes. Better that a handful of megalomaniac billionaires decide these things for us.
YO* –> Media
*Can we admit this is a bubble yet?