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Hands On: Users React to the Yo App

Ayaz Nanji  |  July 23, 2014


The Yo mobile app—a simple messaging service launched in June that allows users to only send the word "Yo" to their contacts—has earned the dubious distinction of being the most mocked product of the year.

Seemingly every media outlet and tech pundit has already taken a swipe at Yo, including VentureBeat ("the stupid app that raised $1.2 million"), Robert Scoble ("the pet rock of 2014"), and The Verge ("a source of cheap giggles").

All the snark is understandable—Yo makes for an easy target with its extremely simple idea, quick funding (which recently jumped to $1.5 million), and outspoken founder—but is it deserved?

The app has already achieved 2 million downloads, so consumers are at least giving it a shot. So, what do they think of Yo?

And, just as importantly, what lessons can designers and developers learn from the release of the product?

We ran a study with 20 mobile users—10 who had already received an invite to use the app from a friend and 10 who had not—to see how they reacted to both the current experience and some of the company's future plans.

Here's what we learned:

1. People (not surprisingly) have very little patience for major bugs.

2. A colorful design and simple interface can go a long way.

3. A new social app may only be as successful as its social integrations.

4. Sometimes people simply won't get your idea. That's OK.

5. Simple interactions are (occasionally) really fun for users.

6. People are (sort of) curious about external notifications sent via an app.

7. People see a real value in being able to complete simple tasks via an app.

View our highlight reel of users exploring the app, or watch it in the video below.

1. People (not surprisingly) have very little patience for major bugs.

Yo's creator has said that the app only took 8 hours to create. Unfortunately, this often shows.

Users agreed that Yo is buggy—really, really, buggy—and these issues often affect the entire app experience.

Some of the code issues with Yo are behind-the-scenes—such as its lax security—but others are clearly visible to consumers.

Of the 20 people we asked to use the app, 13 experienced technical issues that prevented them from fully installing it (in particular, many never received an essential SMS code). The rest did manage to install the app but encountered other major bugs while using the product, such as full crashes while trying to edit their user names.

Oops, that crashed the app. I guess let's go back in.

Not surprisingly, many people quickly gave up on using the app after encountering these bugs—a reminder that consumers are quick to abandon an app if it's not viewed as being fully-baked (and a reminder that seeing the number of times an app is downloaded doesn't tell the full story).

2. A colorful design and simple interface can go a long way.

The Yo app may have taken a lot of flack from the press for its simple premise, but many test participants appreciated the clarity. In fact, once users were able to access the app, they universally reacted well to its straightforward look and interface.

Everything in the app is colorful, big words, easy to find; everything is to the point.

The quick and clear tutorial that follows the install of the app was particularly well-liked, with a number of participants indicating that they found it both funny and informative.

Yo doesn't break new ground with its presentation—it just relies on bold colors, all-caps typography, and minimalist presentation—but users agreed that it's this simplicity that makes the app so engaging.

3. A new social app may only be as successful as its social integrations.

A major problem that test participants encountered with the app is that it was not of much use unless they already had friends on it.

Of course, this is the chicken-or-the-egg problem that all social platforms face: They are only useful to users once they have users.

However, users agreed that Yo makes finding and inviting friends especially difficult. The app's integration with a mobile phone's address book was viewed as pretty good, but the Facebook and Twitter integrations were seen as very basic—allowing only the option of sending out a mass tweet or post to find/invite friends rather providing a way to reach them individually.

I don't really understand how to do this. I don't know how to invite a specific friend on Facebook. I really can't find anyone on Yo.

Understandably, all of the participants shied away from inviting their entire list of social contacts to Yo and so many were left feeling stuck. Users agreed that not having a large network of people to "Yo" limited the product—highlighting how critical well-thought-out integrations are for new social apps.

4. Sometimes people simply won't get your idea. That's OK.

Some users were befuddled by Yo—calling the app "weird" or saying they "just don't get it."

Some said they don't see why they would ever use it instead of texting/messaging, some cited fatigue in trying to keep up with all the social platforms out there, and one said she simply doesn't like the word "yo" all that much.

How often would I use this app? Maybe on occasion with my daughter. I'm more likely, frankly, to send her a text message to see how she's doing.

But other users reacted positively as soon as they saw the app, calling it "cool" or saying they "loved it."

What do those conflicting reactions mean?

Perhaps simply that an app doesn't have to appeal to everyone (including tech pundits) as long as there is a large enough group who does "get it."

5. Simple interactions are (occasionally) really fun for users.

For those users who did like the app, one word came up over and over: Fun.

The experience of both sending and receiving a "Yo" made most testers laugh, and a few kept sending "Yo"s over and over to the same contacts.

My sister and I just send each other these in the middle of the day to be silly and stuff like that. It's just kind of a fun thing.

However, even those who enjoyed the experience said that they couldn't see themselves using Yo as their main means of communication with friends and family, since it doesn't allow for expressing complicated ideas and emotions.

A few users likened the Yo experience to "Poking" on Facebook—a simple way to communicate to someone that you are thinking about them.

However, Facebook has been phasing out Pokes for a long time in favor of more complex interactions, so the comparison could be either a curse or a roadmap for Yo—perhaps simple interactions can evolve into richer communication over time, or perhaps they just lead to a dead end.

6. People are (sort of) curious about external notifications sent via an app.

Yo has said that it sees the product as being useful for businesses or organizations that need to communicate something to people—for example, a dry cleaner that wants to tell a customer that their clothes are ready for pick-up.

The company has even made the news recently after a group used it to warn Israelis of possible incoming rocket attacks.

When asked about Yo's potential as a platform for notifications, test participants said the idea is interesting and said they can see it being used for basic things such as knowing when a car is done at a repair shop.

However, they also expressed doubts:

  • What would happen if the business needed to communicate something more complex (i.e., "Your food is 10 minutes late.")?

  • What would the advantage be of sending a "Yo" over just sending a text message?

Overall, users agreed that getting notifications from businesses and organizations on their mobile phones is appealing, but they are just not sure that Yo is the best platform for these.

Well, what if there is a problem with my laundry and they want to notify me? If they just sent a "Yo" I wouldn't know what that means.

7. People see a real value in being able to control things via an app.

The other big idea that Yo has been showcasing is its IFTTT (If This Then That) integration, which allows users to complete simple tasks by sending a message, such as turning on their air conditioner.

This idea was greeted warmly by a number of test participants, with two calling it "awesome." Users agreed that there is an almost endless number of uses for this functionality—from starting a car remotely to turning off their home lights while away.

It seems this app is very simple to use, so if through the simplicity of this I was able to do tasks, that would help me out. That would be awesome.

In particular, users seemed to like the idea because it played to Yo's core strength: simplicity. As a few noted, the minimalist interface and one-touch functionality would be perfect for easily managing these sorts of tasks.

What do you think?

Have you used the app? Developers, do you think Yo is brilliant, or would you change it completely? Let us know in the comments!


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About the author:

Ayaz Nanji is a digital consultant, contributing writer for UserTesting, and proud data nerd. He has worked as a content strategist and content creator for a whole bunch of places, including Google/YouTube, The Travel Channel, AOL, and The New York Times.