Thoughts on the current state of messengers and why I created Yelo.

Dedicated to all my friends.

After I moved to San Francisco I began to feel homesick. My friends and family were far away and most of our conversations were limited to a group chat online. I was glad that I could keep in touch with them, but it didn’t feel right because messaging still felt impersonal. I started trying to FaceTime them more often, but it required planning the whole thing ahead, and needed both sides to be online and present. Scheduling a video chat with a group was nothing short of a miracle.

I wanted to understand why current messenger apps didn’t work for me the way I wanted. The first thing I noticed was that the core user interface for messaging hasn’t really changed in almost a decade. I think that a profile picture (one that most people don’t change in months or even years) and a text bubble is not the best representation of a person. In addition, it doesn’t give a message much context, and overall doesn’t provide any feeling of emotional connection.

The original iPhone SMS app and Facebook Messenger

Lately, messaging has become multimedia centric — we send gifs, share images and use emojis to enhance our conversations and make them fun. However, conversations still haven’t become more interesting and media content feels like a workaround to expressing emotions.

Major platforms like Facebook Messenger, Telegram, Kik and WeChat are opening up to all kinds of automated activity such as bots and broadcasting channels. This type of activity dehumanizes messaging even further. For example, if you’re subscribed to bots or channels in a messenger app and receive a lot of push notifications, you might end up getting desensitised to receiving notifications altogether and you may miss a friend’s text. I had this experience with Telegram messenger — after subscribing to a few channels, I had been overwhelmed by notifications and started to skip important messages.

I decided I should try experimenting with messaging and created something that worked well for me. My prototype gave me the feeling of a connection I craved — it’s a new medium where each message is accompanied by a photo from your phone’s camera.

With this simple trick, I could chat with my friends and family face-to-face and see what they were doing at that exact moment, where they were, and how they were feeling. It’s as convenient and fast as texting — you can reply at your own pace and when you want to — but with instant photos attached to each message it feels personal, emotional and live like FaceTime does. I wrapped this into an app and called it Yelo.

Screenshots of my Yelo groups with friends from different parts of the world.

I always wanted to focus on talking to my friends rather than sharing stuff. This is why Yelo doesn’t support links, stickers, gifs or other content. It’s simply about you chitchatting away with your friends. Basically, the feeling I wanted to embed in this product is of a small house party or a family dinner where people actually pay attention to each other. I think social products should bring people closer together, help them interact with each other (rather than interacting around “content”) and let them have fun. That’s how Yelo feels. Hopefully it will work for others as well as it did for my friends and me.

Yelo is available in the AppStore and you can get it here: http://yelo.chat/get

If you have any feedback regarding your experience with Yelo or you just want to get in touch, please hit me up at hello@yelo.chat