Why the Mobile App That Just Says "Yo" Is a Big Deal

Analyzing the top news stories across the web
June 19 2014 10:54 AM

Why the Mobile App That Just Says "Yo" Is a Big Deal

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"Yo" might mean "prayers just ended, come pick me up".

Photo by Munir Uz ZamanAFP/Getty Images

This post first appeared on Business Insider.

For a few hours on Wednesday, tons of folks were buzzing about a new free mobile app called Yo, which simply allows you to message the word "Yo" to your friends.

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That's all. A one word message.

As with most new ideas, people across social media were quick to dismiss Yo. But legendary venture capitalist Marc Andreessen thinks the naysayers should be a bit more open-minded.

"[T]here's a fascinating aspect lots of people are missing," tweeted Andreessen on Thursday morning. "Yo is an instance of "one-bit communication"—a message with no content other than the fact that it exists," he explained. "Yes or no. Yo or no yo. Other instances of one-bit communication: Police siren, flashing stop light, "Open" sign, light turned on, taxicab roof indicator lit."

But Andreessen singled out the "most interesting instance" of one-bit communication: the global missed call phenomenon. Here's Wikipedia:

A missed call is a telephone call that is deliberately terminated by the caller before being answered by its intended recipient, appearing as a "missed call" on the receiver's cellphone. It is commonly used in South Asia, the Philippines and Africa as a way of communicating pre-agreed messages for free. For example, a group of friends may agree that two missed calls in succession means "I am running late".
In Bangladesh, missed calls make up 70% of cellular network traffic at any given time. The Cellular Operators Association of India, COAI, has instituted a study to understand the revenue implications of missed calls in India. Industry estimates of loss of revenue due to this social phenomenon are 20–25% to as much as 30%. At least one company in Bangalore is using this "tool" to generate business. The culture of the missed call has also been used by political parties like the Aam Aadmi Party as a call to action to drive membership.

After reading this, it doesn't take a whole lot of imagination to see that there may be a big audience for apps like Yo.

"So the hilarity around Yo includes two problematic biases: Bias that one-bit comm isn't useful, and bias that all markets are like the US," he said. "I'm not saying Yo will be the next $100B social media powerhouse," he added. "But instant dismissal makes little sense; let's learn & keep minds open." Some wise words from the veteran venture capitalist.

Disclosure: Marc Andreessen is an investor in Business Insider.

Sam Ro is Business Insider's markets editor. Follow him on Twitter.