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What’s the deal with Yolo, the #1 app that’s taken over Snapchat




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What you need to know about Yolo.
What you need to know about Yolo.

Image: bob al-greene / mashable

There’s a new app that’s topping the App Store: Yolo.

If you’re not a teen, or don’t spend a lot of time on Snapchat, you might not have heard of Yolo. But the app is undeniably a viral hit.

It’s spent more than three weeks in the App Store’s top 10 apps and has held the top spot for nine days in total. The app has been downloaded about 5 million times since its release on May 2, according to data from analytics firm Sensor Tower. 

What is Yolo?

Yolo is built around Snapchat.

Yolo is built around Snapchat.

It’s an anonymous Q&A app that lets people ask their social media followers for feedback. Unlike other anonymous apps before it, though, the app is built around Snapchat. You can log in with your Snapchat credentials (your Bitmoji avatar is optional)  and the app then redirects you to Snapchat, where you can ask for “feedback” directly from your followers.

Incoming questions appear in the Yolo app, but you have to go back to Snapchat to answer them. 

Why is it so popular?

While it’s always hard to say for sure why any particular app goes viral, recent history has taught us that young people love anonymous apps. Before Yolo there was Secret, Whisper, Yik Yak, Sarahah, and tbh. All of these apps worked a bit differently, but they all boasted anonymity as a central feature. And all of them had their moment with teens who, it seems, never tire of finding different ways to ask “what do you think about me?”

You can add your Bitmoji.

You can add your Bitmoji.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Yolo’s founder seems just as surprised with the app’s virality, though he attributed much of the app’s early success to its highly-searchable name. 

Whatever the case may be, the fact that Yolo is so closely tied to Snapchat certainly made it a natural fit for Snap’s younger audience. This isn’t even the first time an app has gone viral almost overnight thanks to Snapchat. Nearly two years ago, Sarahah had a stint as the App Store’s top app after Snapchat began letting users add URLs to their Stories. 

What’s less certain is whether or not Yolo’s popularity will last. Previous apps in this vein (Sarahah, tbh, etc.) have faded nearly as quickly as they’ve gone viral after the initial excitement wears off.

Is Yolo harmful?

Another big question about Yolo which, again, has plagued just about every anonymous app before it: Does anonymity encourage bad behavior? The app has been out less than a month and yet its popularity has already inspired a crop of breathless articles and news reports explaining “what parents need to know” about the app. 

The main concern, of course, is bullying. Any time anonymity is involved, bullying can quickly become an issue. (Bullying eventually got Sarahah kicked out of Apple and Google’s app stores.) On its App Store page, Yolo says it’s for “positive feedback only” and that “your identity will be revealed” if you use the app to harass people, but it’s not clear if this has been enforced beyond the app’s block feature. 

So, yes, there are plenty of reasons to be careful. At the same time, though, anyone using the app could use Snapchat’s privacy features to curate who can interact with them via Yolo. If you’re concerned about potential negativity, it might be a good idea to trim your followers list, or create a separate Story only visible to friends you trust. That could reduce the potential for abuse. 

The author's current Yolo inbox.

The author’s current Yolo inbox.

I’m not a teen, and most of my social circle doesn’t use Snapchat. But I do have a lot of followers on the app and my own brief experience with Yolo has been a bit mixed. Though nothing has been truly concerning, it’s easy to see how inviting anonymous comments from strangers could quickly spiral out of control. 

If the history of anonymous apps has taught us anything, it’s that a platform’s ability to deal with this kind of thing is what will make or make break these types of apps in the short term. The ones that can keep things relatively positive (tbh) or, at least, neutral (Yik Yak, mostly) have done much better than those that have struggled to deal with bullying (Sarahah). 

That aside, the ultimate test will be whether Yolo has any staying power, or if it’s destined to become another one-hit-wonder of the App Store. 

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