Analyzing the top news stories across the web

Dec. 22 2014 12:40 PM

You Can Now Rent “Well-Connected Partygoers” in New York and London

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

A new startup that connects would-be clubbers with nightlife aficionados launched in London on Thursday, Dec. 18. The platform, called Zoola Fix, allows users to book "savvy and well-connected partygoers." It calls these people "Fixers." They guide revellers through the city's hottest nightspots.

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With Zoola Fix, users pay for nights out with Fixers as part of a community marketplace. People can choose between experts who specialize in the likes of "exclusive members clubs," the LGBT scene, or "underground" events and venues. It operates in 3 steps: Find a Fixer; book them; party on until the early morn. Anyone can apply to lead the nights out, though Zoola Fix explains that its operators go through a vetting process and must meet the company's standards.

The concept is the work of Richard Walker-Smith, who claims to have brought the "wildly popular" fish pedicure craze to the UK in 2010. That's the one where your feet in a tank full of hungry fish and let them nibble the dead skin cells from your tired toes. Zoola Fix, right now, is in London and New York exclusively—but Walker-Smith has bold plans for his startup and, when the app is developed, wants to establish it as the go-to resource for people new to the city, tourists, or just those who are a bit stuck for ideas. He told Business Insider: "Our Fixers will recreate the excitement of guests' first night out—this is an entirely new business concept and things that haven't been done before."

"Nights are going to be full throttle," Walker-Smith continues. "No holds barred affairs. Things that can normally detract from a night out are all taken care of to make them more enjoyable, so there’s no getting turned away from clubs and Fixer will queue for drinks, check coats in and arrange taxis on their guests’ behalf. Essentially, you party like a rock star!"

Walker-Smith explains he knows "all the right people and all the right places," so has always got the "go-to guy for a kick ass night out." He says he knows the best nightlife in the city—from private members' clubs to wild warehouse raves.

He also mentions that nightcrawlers will also benefit from the company: "Fixers aren't innocent bystanders, they're in the club until the lights come on and they’re not satisfied until they’ve found an after party. The fourth round of tequilas will be their idea, going to three clubs instead of one will be their idea and, of course, the after party will be their idea."

Walker-Smith's network is still being built, but Zoola Fix is out in time for Christmas and New Year's Eve—probably a good time to launch a party business. The app, soon to land, will bring together "thousands" of party enthusiasts and organizers, adds Walker-Smith, and allow people to rate their Fixers—it works on a peer-to-peer basis, just like Uber, or Airbnb.

Walker-Smith tells Business Insider: "I've thrown Project X-inspired mansion parties and organized debaucherous bashes for the likes of Cirque du Soleil. But for me, nothing will beat this for fun-factor. I’m going to be a Fixer myself and can’t wait to meet new people from around the world, show them my favourite haunts and get paid to party—it doesn’t get much better than that!”

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Dec. 22 2014 11:11 AM

Sony Hack Results in the “Best Week by Far” for Confidential Messaging Apps

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

The recent Sony Pictures hack has everyone thinking of what would happen if all their private emails and messages were leaked, and that means business is booming for confidential messaging apps. "We continue to see a big surge in downloads," Mark Cuban tells Business Insider. Cuban's app, Cyber Dust, is described as "WhatsApp meets Snapchat," and allows users to send messages and photos that self-destruct after 30 seconds.

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Cuban is also a prime example of how some confidential messaging apps are now more secure and off-the-record than email clients. Just last week, hackers released an email conversation between Cuban and Sony Pictures Television President Steve Mosko, where it was revealed Cuban wasn't happy with his compensation on Shark Tank.

Cuban says it could have been worse. "I moved the negotiations for Shark Tank to Cyber Dust before the hack," Cuban said, pointing out that only the negotiations carried out over email leaked, while the rest carried out through his app remain safe. "The fact they remain private proves it works."

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iTunes

Other confidential messaging apps like Confide have also seen a big spike in downloads as people search for a solution that will keep their messages safe. "I would be comfortable saying best week by far across all metrics," Confide cofounder Jon Brod tells Business Insider. Confide's killer feature is its screenshot protection, which forces users to drag a finger across each word to reveal the message beneath.

This makes it extremely difficult to take screenshots, as only part of the message is visible at any time, and multiple screenshots are impossible as each message self-destructs as soon as the first screenshot is detected.

But while confidential messaging apps like Confide and Cyber Dust are great for the average conversation, people use email very differently than a messaging app. For example, many of the emails between Sony execs and the directors, actors, and startup founders they were conducting business with often discussed a contract or referenced past emails, which can be tough to transfer into the instant-message style of apps like Cyber Dust or Confide.

So where's the email version of these apps? Cuban didn't specify if an email version of Cyber Dust was being developed, but he did recommend using an application like Blue Stacks, which allows users to use their smartphone apps on their desktop or laptop computer. Unfortunately, creating a screenshot-proof, self-destructing email app brings with it additional challenges.

Confide's screenshot prevention trick hinges on the limited functionality of smartphones. But it's far easier to use your mouse to take a quick screenshot of your computer's screen—and there's just more room for people to get creative and take advantage of loopholes.

"We are very focused on the question of photos and documents," Brod tells us. "We are working on desktop because we think that's incredibly relevant and important to our target audience. We are very enamored with email, such that we have begun a level of Confide integration into email."

Jeff Grossman, Confide's chief product officer, mentioned two separate challenges with integrating Confide into email: There's end-to-end encryption, and then the disappearing and screenshot-proof part. Grossman says not only does the email server responsible for transporting emails need to be encrypted, but in order for emails to self-destruct, "you need to be able to trust any clients that interact with the service."

There are plenty of additional technical challenges to be worked out before we see a Confide email version hit the market, but the Confide team knows the demand has never been greater. "Yes there are technical challenges in all of this," Brod says, "but I think we've done a decent job overcoming those."

In the meantime, if you or your company is looking for a safe way to communicate, you can download Confide right here and Cyber Dust here.

Dec. 19 2014 1:13 PM

Check Out Hershey’s 3-D-Printed Kisses

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

Hershey's and 3D Systems are collaborating to make the candy of the future. The chocolate company is planning to unveil a 3D Chocolate Candy Printing exhibit at Hershey’s Chocolate World in Hershey, Pennsylvania, according to RetailingToday. People who visit the exhibit will be able to print and purchase their own chocolate. They can also see what they look like as 3-D chocolate molds. 

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This is where 3-D-printed chocolate is made.

Ketchum/Hershey

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3-D printing has been on the rise and could become a $13 billion industry.

“This exhibit is a great example of co-creation with consumers. They will be instrumental in shaping the future of commercially available 3-D chocolate printing,” Hershey Co.’s chief research and development officer, Will Papa said in a news release. 

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How chocolate is 3-D-printed.

Ketchum/Hershey

3Ders.com reports that the exhibit will be open to the public Thursday, but until then, you can watch a video of the chocolate 3-D printer in action below.

Dec. 18 2014 12:46 PM

A Bunch of Companies Are Suing Google Over Its Ad Policies

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

Small businesses and tech startups are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in search ad revenue from Google because they have difficulty following the company's policies. One company, Pubshare, has sued Google for nearly $1 million in revenue it allegedly earned from ads, which Google declined to pass on to the company.

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The company is owned by Peter Ogtanyan, according to a copy of his lawsuit filed in a California state court. Pubshare published humorous viral images for social media, like "mind-blowing street art." It used Google's AdSense software, which allows companies to run Google search ads on their site and gain revenue from them. He gained 300 million views and 1.5 million clicks via AdSense, with a click-through rate of 0.45 percent, his suit says. That traffic generated about $1 million between September 2013 and October 2013, the suit alleges, before Google sent him this notice saying it would not pay any of the money his ads had earned:

LAYOUT ENCOURAGES ACCIDENTAL CLICKS: Publishers are not permitted to encourage users to click on Google ads in any way. This includes any Complaint implementation that may encourage accidental clicks, such as placing ads near flash games or navigation bars, or placing ads and site links extremely close together.

Ogtanyan says he ran his ads in the same format as those on Chacha.com, Dictionary.com, and Answers.com, which continue to run AdSense advertising.

Google asked the court to dismiss the case, but a judge ruled to let it proceed. The company has recently indicated that it is bowing to pressure from publishers: In a blog post, it said it would be "making some changes" when considering whether publishers should be banned. 

"Allowing an AdSense publisher to accumulate hundreds of thousands of dollars in earnings without any warnings of improper practices, and then abruptly refusing to pay out any of those earnings by means of auto-generated form e-mails is the very definition of bad faith," says Randy Gaw, a lawyer at the San Francisco firm Gaw Poe, which represents Ogtanyan.

Google declined to comment on this story when contacted by Business Insider.

Google Faces A Bunch Of Lawsuits

Another website operator told Business Insider that it earned more than $500,000 in a few weeks from Google's AdSense advertising program before being banned from using Google and losing all the money in its account.

Four different companies have told Business Insider they are talking to their lawyers about suing the search giant for fraud. Three have actually sued, according to copies of the litigation obtained by Business Insider.

In total, Business Insider has heard from seven companies that say they lost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars when they were suddenly banned from AdSense. All the companies say they were following Google's strict rules about how to place ads on their site. Some of them say they were encouraged or given approval for their ad plans by Google's sales staff. The companies showed us emails, images from their AdSense account dashboards, and online chat transcripts with Google staff to demonstrate their problems.

In all the cases, the companies say they would have been happy to change their websites in any way that Google asked. Appeals are limited, they say. "Google's appeal form required Plaintiff to limit his appeal to 1,000 characters," Ogtanyan's lawsuit says.

In more than one case, Google staff told the publishers their sites were within Google's AdSense rules—and then they were banned, losing their money. We collected these specific examples:

  • A viral photo site, Pubshare.com, that lost nearly $1 million.
  • A viral news site that lost $500,000.
  • A business accelerator site that lost $200,000.
  • A publisher who lost $300,000.
  • A web-based text-messaging site, MesTextos.com, that lost $46,000.
  • A quiz site, QuizDee, that lost $35,000.
  • An Indian storytelling site, Evrystry.com, that also lost $35,000

Some of the companies agreed only to talk privately because their lawyers advised them not to speak to the media if they were preparing legal action against Google.

$200,000 A Month ... Gone

The owner of one company who did not want his name published told us that his site had been so successful that after it had earned $200,000 or more in one month he checked with Google to make sure he was in compliance with the rules. Three AdSense reps reassured him that his site was compliant. So he invested more money into the site, and his AdSense account earned more than $500,000 in revenues. Then he was banned from AdSense for monetizing invalid clicks.

You can see Google's rules about click validity and ad placement on AdSense here. Google's contract rules are strict: Google retains the right to cut you off at its discretion, it says:

Payments to you may be withheld to reflect or adjusted to exclude any amounts refunded or credited to advertisers and any amounts arising from invalid activity, as determined by Google in its sole discretion.


... Google may at any time terminate the Agreement, or suspend or terminate the participation of any Property in the Services for any reason. If we terminate the Agreement due to your breach or due to invalid activity, we may withhold unpaid amounts or charge back your account ...

If Google detects a site that may be breaking the rules, the company will generally send a note to the publisher explaining which policy was in question and, in many cases, give them a chance to make changes to their pages to keep the account in good standing. Publishers are also given an opportunity to appeal policy decisions.

Google has recently softened its stance toward publishers who get banned like this. In two blog posts it has indicated that it will consider publishers' cases more generously, particularly looking at tenure, and it has given publishers more warnings about the nature of invalid botnet traffic that can show up on sites.

More broadly, Google is engaged in a high-profile war against low-quality advertising. It recently revealed that more than half of ads served on Google properties were never seen by humans. The company wants to be seen to be leading the way against garbage ads. Google has millions of ad customers. Many of them are unsophisticated publishers who may be buying traffic from botnets or other illegitimate sources. Google cannot explain to them why their ads are being pulled for fear of educating botnet operators on how to get around Google's policies.

Sales Staff Says Yes, But Compliance Staff Says No

The problem, however, is that while Google's compliance staff is trying to enforce the rules, Google's sales staff is sometimes encouraging publishers and not alerting them that their revenue streams have fallen afoul of rules that will get them banned. The contradiction comes because publishers believe that the sales staff members are able to tell them that their sites are in compliance and won't get banned. In fact, a different staff team at Google makes decisions on publisher bans.

Here is the most egregious example we were given. In this case, a publisher who was seeing a sudden, massive increase in traffic and ad revenue deliberately checked with a Google rep to make sure the company was OK with how the revenue was being earned. After a conversation in which the publisher discussed changes to his page to bring it into compliance with Google's ad rules, the Google rep assured the company that everything was OK:

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Business Insider

Another source told us that in September "I was surprised last night when I received a notification from Google that my AdSense was disabled. I didn't even received any warnings regarding any violations. Last month I earned $72,000 and got paid. This current month so far (September) I was earning $52,000 and lost it.

"According to the letter, my AdSense account was found to be non-compliant with their AdSense program policies. What? Last month, I was contacted by a representative from Google and told me my website was doing well and offered further optimisation. I'm confused why they suddenly banned my 2 year old AdSense account. :-("

"You May Not Create New Accounts"

Here is a typical email from Google informing a publisher it will not be getting its money. Note that the publisher has lost its appeal, meaning that Google has looked at the issue twice and both times found the publisher not to be in compliance with its terms of service:

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Business Insider

This source's website may have been banned because it used news that had been reblogged from other sites. Google does not allow "scraped" content. The source complained that plenty of mainstream sites did the same thing, and that even if that were true, he was not given a chance to rectify the situation.

Because AdSense bans cost companies so much money, and because they are permanent, a growing number of businesses have come to believe Google's confiscation of money that had been earned via AdSense is unlawful. Google is also being sued in the US over allegations that it suddenly and without explanation withholds ad money from website publishers once their sites become successful. Earlier this year, the company was the target of an infamous, and obviously fake, conspiracy theory that publishers who made $5,000 or more per month were banned from the system right before their checks were paid. (The theory has a giant hole in it—Google collects revenues only when it delivers those ads, so banning successful sites would actually make Google poorer.) This theory has been making the rounds for years.

There is one obvious aspect of the AdSense rules that might dampen the ire of publishers who are critics: Google takes the money only after it has been earned. These publishers might have less to complain about if their earnings were paid out before they were exiled from the system.

Dec. 18 2014 8:30 AM

Where the “Dude, You’re Getting a Dell” Guy Is Now

This video originally appeared on Business Insider.

Ben Curtis is a 33-year-old actor best known for his role as the "Dell dude." He appeared in 26 different commercials for the goliath PC company in the early 2000s and became a national sensation for his "Dude, you're getting a Dell!" catchphrase.

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After Curtis got caught trying to buy pot, though, Dell immediately severed ties with the young actor. Curtis tells us about his time as the "Dell Dude," how much money he made, where all that money went, and what he's up to now.

Follow Business Insider Video on YouTube and watch more videos: Barbara Corcoran: Here's the One Shark Tank Investment That Got Away

Dec. 17 2014 12:25 PM

It’s Surprisingly Easy to Access Facebook’s Source Code. Does That Matter?

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

A bunch of tech commentators on Hacker News are talking about how easy it is to read Facebook source code, and some say it could pose a risk to the social media site. Users can literally look inside snapshots of Facebook’s digital world because its engineers dumped a load of information in Pastebin, which is a platform for storing and sharing text.

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The discussion is a reaction to a recent post on the Sinthetic Labs blog. A guy called Nathan Malcolm explains how, in 2013, he was fixing “a few bugs” while using software development tools and “ended up finding about a lot more about Facebook’s internals that I intended.” Sinthetic Labs is a security research group. Malcolm says all he did was Google an error message and ended up finding a specific link to a Pastebin post. As he investigated further, he stumbled across various pieces of data that paint a picture of what Facebook looks like behind the scenes—in a digital sense, anyway.

He found what looked to be names, commands, and other “interesting information.” As you’ll see in an example below, the code probably won't mean much to most people, but letting it roam free on the internet “probably wasn't the smartest move,” Malcolm says.

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Oh, look: Facebook code.

Sinthetic Labs

When discussing some of the files (not the image above), Malcolm explains:

The person who, likely, posted this was “emir.” This may be the person’s first name, or it could be their first initial and then their surname (E. Mir). It’s clear this output was intended to be seen by another engineer at Facebook, so posting it on Pastebin probably wasn’t the smartest move. This person may have made other slip ups which could make them a target if an attacker sees an opportunity.

Malcolm concedes that his findings don’t really pose a direct threat to Facebook, but suggests the resources could in extreme circumstances. He even found Facebook’s password for MySQL—the open-source database management system. Crucially, Malcolm says Facebook’s servers are heavily firewalled, so the information is effectively useless unless “you manage to break into Facebook’s servers,” he notes.

Overall, lots of people appear simply amazed at how easy it is to see this stuff. One comment on Hacker News says that “while some leaks may not even be effective outside Facebook’s internal network ... having actual code that may be in production does pose a risk. The possibility to see where, for instance, data isn’t fully sanitized, or where information being fetched might not require proper authentication is more worrying.”

Another person mentions another source of files. They say: “I’m amazed at how many username/passwords are freely available via github search.” The bottom line is, “If you do not want someone to find it—do not publish it online.”

Dec. 16 2014 2:09 PM

Autoplay Video Could Be the Next Step of Twitter’s “Facebookification”

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

Twitter is debating internally whether to launch a feature that would see videos begin automatically as users scroll through their timelines, sources have told Adweek

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One industry insider called the debate "a tug of war." It's a move that would no doubt please advertisers, as more people's eyes would be attracted to their branded content and ads, but could send users running as videos begin to clutter up the feed.

Twitter autoplay video would build on the company's Amplify ad program, in which the company works with sports and entertainment brands to sell sponsorships against live-streamed video. Autoplay video may have been the vision behind Twitter's June acquisition of SnappyTV, a service that allows for the clipping, editing, and sharing of clips from live broadcasts in near real-time. An autoplay feature could also help drive up the price of Twitter video ads, which a source told Adweek were relatively cheap at about 2 cents per view, versus $1 per view on other social platforms.

Business Insider has spoken to several industry sources about the potential autoplay video rollout. None could confirm hearing of an autoplay launch date, but the sources all agreed it would make sense as Twitter continues its "Facebookification." Twitter is also playing catch-up to the Facebook-owned photography and video app Instagram, which announced earlier this week it had overtaken Twitter in terms of users—Instagram, too, has an autoplay video feature.

Jan Rezab, CEO of the social-media analytics company Socialbakers, told Business Insider: "Twitter already has auto-expand photos in the feed—and remember, it was the first to launch autoplay, with Vine [although these don't autoplay in the feed, only when they are expanded]—but with Facebook's autoplay videos and YouTube announcing a few days ago it will launch autoplay, Twitter has been left behind.

"Autoplay is much more attractive because it just works better. Facebook is proving that; it is accumulating huge amounts of video views."

Data from Socialbakers given to Business Insider earlier this month showed that for the first time ever, Facebook Page owners uploaded more videos directly to Facebook than shared YouTube videos in November. Facebook's autoplay video feature seems to be so attractive, it's carving off a huge slice of YouTube’s audience.

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Socialbakers

Socialbakers also found Facebook videos drive more engagement than YouTube videos shared on the platform.

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Socialbakers

Dec. 16 2014 12:42 PM

McDonald’s Japan Is Having a French Fry Crisis

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

McDonald's will cut down on portions of French fries from its menus in Japan, as the fast food restaurant faces a shortage of frozen potatoes, the Financial Times reports.

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The website wrote that from Wednesday onwards McDonald's will only sell small portions of French fries. This is due to a shortage of imported potatoes caused by labor dispute at a port on the US West Coast.

The crisis is partly the result of prolonged negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association, which manages 29 American ports, and 20,000 dockworkers who have been without contract from June.

Japan is the biggest Asian market for American French fries, importing $336 million in frozen potato products last year.

The Financial Times reports that McDonald's, which has taken steps to fly in over 1,000 tons of frozen potatoes to face the situation, still does not know how long the crisis will affect its Asian restaurants. More supplies shipped on a different route are expected between January and February.

Dec. 15 2014 12:50 PM

An Ex-Apple Engineer’s New App Turns Your iPad Into a Second Display for Your Mac

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

Duet Display is an app designed to get you some extra use out of your iPad. Instead of letting your iPad collect dust when you’re not using it, Duet Display turns it into a second display for your Mac, using the iPad’s charging chord to connect to your computer. The app was created by Rahul Dewan, an engineer who worked at Apple for three years on the iPad and iMac.

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“A second display can increase productivity up to 48 percent,” Dewan told Business Insider. “If you have an iPad, you already have that second screen. With Duet, you can finally use it. Otherwise, your $700 device is just sitting there.”

In addition to giving you extra screen real estate (which is great for musicians, designers, and photo and video editors), Duet Display also takes advantage of the iPad’s touch capabilities, allowing you to tap and scroll through whatever you choose to drag over to the second display.

While other apps like Air Display already exist that will turn your iPad into a second display, those apps connect your iPad to your Mac using WiFi, which leads to a lot of lag. Duet Display, on the other hand, has zero lag, and it also offers a true Retina resolution that takes full advantage of the iPad’s HD display.

Duet Display also offers energy-saving options for people using older Macs that aren’t as powerful. You can choose between regular and Retina resolution (you’ll need a newer Mac for Retina mode to work seamlessly), but you can also switch between a 30 Hz and 60 Hz refresh rate.

Setting up Duet Display is a cinch. You just download the app on your iPad and for your Mac, restart your computer, and you’re ready to go.

Because my work computer is a Mac Mini, I stuck to the regular resolution along with a 60 Hz refresh rate, and it worked well without any hiccups. While the Retina resolution certainly makes everything crisper, it also puts more work on your computer, but if you have a more recent Mac you should be all set.

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Duet Display is great for keeping an eye on Twitter or Slack.

Business Insider

In use, Duet Display performed exactly how I’d like it to. I could drag a webpage with my Twitter feed or Slack over to my iPad’s screen, and you can tap fullscreen to have whatever window you’re displaying expand to fill the entire screen. YouTube videos played back smoothly, and I even played a game of Hearthstone just to see if it worked for games. (It does, but most of the time it makes more sense to just game on your primary display.)

Duet Display also works in either portrait or landscape mode.

Another bonus feature is that you can technically use Duet Display to turn your iPad into your only display, though that feature only works if you disable your Mac login, since Duet Display only works after you’ve logged in.

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Duet Display

Most importantly, Duet Display is the first app that actually turns your iPad into a second display I’d actually like to use. As someone who has tried Air Display and uninstalled it shortly afterward, frustrated,  I can honestly say this is the only option that’s worth it.

Duet Display launches Monday, and you’ll be able to download the app right here.

Dec. 15 2014 12:08 PM

Yo, What Happened to Yo?

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

There was a time when Yo was one of the biggest apps in the world. For four days in June 2014, Yo ruled the App Store charts, skyrocketing from obscurity to become, at its peak, the fourth-most popular app in the U.S. But now, months after its meteoric rise to fame, Yo has all but disappeared, dismissed as a novelty app by many of the users who embraced it. Despite the change in its fortunes, Yo has been hiring staff, relocating the company from Israel to San Francisco, and attracting global brands to its platform.

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Business Insider met with Yo CEO Or Arbel in London to discuss the app’s sudden and unexpected rise to fame, as well as the company’s attempt to save itself. Sitting in a central London restaurant, Arbel was using the downtime between meetings to work on Yo, writing code on his laptop amid the noise.

Yo started life when Moshe Hogeg, chief executive of Israeli startup Mobli, mentioned to his friend Arbel, a former employee, that he wanted a simple app to call his assistant. Arbel liked the idea, and turned it into Yo after eight hours of coding. Yo is indeed a simple app: At its launch the only thing you could do was send the word Yo to another user. 

There was an initial flurry of press after Yo launched on April Fool's day. Tech blogger Robert Scoble posted about the app on Facebook, but Yo didn’t receive widespread interest. It launched with an ambitious aim: Arbel wanted to accrue many users quickly. But it didn’t quite go to plan. “The plan said that we should acquire 250,000 users by the first two weeks, and we launched at the beginning of April and we didn’t get that. We got 50,000 for the whole two months.”

“It took about two months to decide to leave my current startup and do Yo full-time. And after I decided to go to San Francisco, I got a phone call from Tim at the Financial Times and another guy from ThinkProgress, and then the article came.”

It’s possible to trace Yo’s sudden boost in popularity to a blog post written by the Financial Times’ Tim Bradshaw* on June 18. The post described Yo as “messaging without the messages,” although it also said that the app was “ridiculous.” After the Financial Times post went live, Twitter users began to try Yo for themselves, often sharing mocking posts about it on Twitter.

The wave of lighthearted interest in Yo, often coming from journalists and bankers on Twitter, introduced Yo to an influential audience. Suddenly, everyone was on Yo.

Although the app seems like a useless novelty, its simplicity is also its strength. If you want to tell someone you’re OK without racking up a phone bill or incurring data charges, sending a Yo over WiFi does the job. In fact, any kind of confirmation between two people can be reduced to a Yo in the right circumstances: Send a Yo when you get off the plane. Send a Yo when you get out of your meeting. Send a Yo when you’re thinking about me so I know you love me. Israelis use it to warn of incoming missile attacks. And so on.

We asked Arbel what it was like to watch his app go viral: “It was pretty crazy. There was a lot of stuff to do. What was it like? Sleepless nights. It was just hard keeping the service up, all the interviews, and everything together. Then we got hacked.”

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The message posted after Yo was hacked.

Twitter

Days after its rise to the top of the App Store charts, a gang of hackers set their sights on Yo. They discovered how to manipulate the app to display messages, and even figured out how to reveal users’ phone numbers. They sent a text message to Arbel to let him know what had happened. 

The hack might have ended the lives of other, less resilient companies, but Yo persevered. “It was like a month, between two weeks and a month, when everybody was talking about it. All the newspapers, all the media. We got a million downloads in four days. And then some more.”

Yo’s success didn’t last. Its novelty wore off, and users started leaving the app. Despite adding new features like sharing links and locations, Yo slipped back down the App Store rankings.

The red line in the chart below shows Yo’s ranking in the U.S. social networking category, while the blue line shows its overall App Store ranking. It’s stayed pretty popular in the sparse social networking category, but has fallen out of the top 1,000 apps overall.

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App Annie

Business Insider asked Arbel how Yo plans to reverse that decline and bring the app back to the top of the App Store:

“We didn’t spend a dime so far on marketing. ... This graph is obviously, if you get everyone and all the press to talk about you, then obviously when everyone stops talking about you it’s going to go down. But the way we’re going to correct the graph and go up is by making the app useful and letting people know that it’s useful. That’s the only way.

"We obviously want to bring back everyone who was thinking that Yo was this stupid app, we’re gonna do a lot of marketing to let them know that Yo is not that anymore."

Many people see Yo’s decline in popularity as a normal event for lighthearted app, as something to be accepted. But for Yo’s founder, it’s a problem. “If Yo needs to exist, it needs to make money. It’s a business. There are employees, and offices to rent. Currently there are 10 employees. We are still growing and hiring.”

Part of that growth has involved signing up some well-known names to the service. Organizations like the NBA, Chelsea Football Club, and General Electric have opened accounts on Yo. We asked Arbel how the app finds them.

“Some of these names come to us, and some of these names, we come to them. We show the platform, the dashboard, and how easy it is to use it. It’s very easy to use the app and we take this approach also on how we let businesses use our platform, and it’s very, very simple. You can broadcast a link with Yo to thousands of users in one tap, and you can get a lot of information on what’s going on with your links very easily.”

Now that the brands are on the app, is Yo going to start charging them to send enhanced Yos?

“Yeah. But businesses will never be able to send a Yo to someone who didn’t opt into their service. It’s not yet determined, but the simple plan is if a business gets value out of our platform, the business will have to pay for using our platform.”

*Correction, Dec. 15, 2014This post originally misidentified Financial Times writer Tim Bradshaw as Tim Bradford.

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