Yo: Learn, don’t burn

I follow a lot of people on Twitter who work in civic tech, the intersection between technology and solving community problems. I also, from time to time, Yo. Like many others, I joined Yo out of curiosity, half-giggling. I’ve since come to appreciate its economy of words and dead-simple interface. I’ve been surprised by the emotions that Yo provokes in my civic tech friends and role models on Twitter.

A Yo can’t change the world and can’t feed the hungry. A Yo is just a tiny atom of meaning, purely dependent on shared context between yo’er and yo’ee. A Yo can mean “Good morning” between roommates, “Hurry up, I’m waiting” between friends meeting up to go out, “Did you read that email yet?” between coworkers.

Or, when sent from a mentor to her mentee: “Don’t forget that we’re meeting up this afternoon to talk about your application essay!” Or, when sent from an activist to her neighbor: “Public meeting starts in five minutes!” It’s easy to imagine a civic hacker putting the Yo API to good use – alerting citizens when a bill they care about comes up for a vote, for example. Community life springs from communication. If stronger communities are the goal, who cares whether we build them with Facebook posts, fliers, text messages, or Yos?

The design and functionality of the app are so simple that it requires no written explanation. What government agency wouldn’t wish for enrollment or procurement processes as simple and streamlined? Or a public interface as direct, bold, and colorful? Instead of pitting Yo against civic causes, let’s treat Yo seriously and learn from it to advance civic tech.