Yahoo’s Livetext is a messaging app for the Snapchat generation

30 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

First Look: Yahoo Livetext lets you see but not be heard.

New York (CNNMoney) — Yahoo has taken all of the viral features of the most popular messaging apps and combined it into one monster of a service called Livetext.It’s easy to imagine how all of those video calls ended up in classic works of science fiction: In a future where communicating via live video is an option, their authors must have wondered, who would choose to write or use the phone?

At the time, Yahoo declined to comment, except to say that it’s “always experimenting with new product experiences.” The company demonstrated the app at a press event in New York City today. Yahoo Inc. announced Wednesday that it is releasing an app that combines live video and texting, sending a silent message that it is upping its mobile game. It’s a risky bet and Yahoo is targeting young users who may want to talk to a friend during boring dinner parties with a little more interaction than just text.

Indeed, Livetext borrows elements found in numerous places: standard texting, Apple’s FaceTime, Skype, Snapchat, Meerkat, Twitter-owned Periscope and so on. The company bills the free app as “non-intrusive, quick and real-time” allowing “interactions, from a goofy smile, to an eye roll.” The company is rolling out Livetext globally, beginning with Hong Kong, Taiwan and Ireland. Then they started texting — the content was similar to many other text conversations, with random comments, questions and emojis, but superimposed on a video. It works like this: You exchange texts as with any ordinary texting service only you can also see the other person’s instant reactions to the ongoing text conversation.

The messaging app is part of Chief Executive Marissa Mayer‘s effort to revive growth at the aging Internet portal by updating its most popular services, such as Flickr and email, and building a suite of new mobile apps. Livetext displays text messages and emojis on the video screen like Twitter’s Periscope, doesn’t save or archive chats and media files like Snapchat, and organizes contact lists and friend requests like Snapchat too. Once you’re connected, one of you can ask to start a Livetext session, then the video starts once the other user joins. (If your friend wants to Livetext and you’re not available to join till later, you’ll get each other’s text messages but no video.) Livetext sessions are currently one-on-one, and while Sethi said he’s not ruling out the possibility of adding group sessions in the future, it doesn’t look like that’s a priority.

The app will vie for the attention of smartphone users who have dozens of messaging apps at their fingertips, from Facebook Inc.-owned WhatsApp to the disappearing message phenomenon Snapchat Inc. The second is that, because it requires audio, people feel uncomfortable using it in the places where they might text—at work, on the bus, in line at the grocery store. “All of us can hear everything you are saying and everything you are hearing,” he said. A guy following me on Twitter, Josh Steinfeld, asked, “Is this going to be one of those things that 15 year olds use and the rest of us don’t understand?” “With any new form of communication it’s definitely early adopter in the sense that you want to see that they’re actually using it and engaging regularly,” he said. “And what we found in our user studies and testing was that they found new times to use the product, starting to engage more and more frequently, and having more and more conversations on our service. Arjun Sethi, who headed the team at Yahoo that created Livetext, said he wasn’t concerned about messaging competitors, rather about “emotionally connecting people.” Yahoo, he said, has been “very entrepreneurial since we got here.” He joined Yahoo last year when the company acquired his startup, MessageMe – a messaging service it has now shuttered.

He added that even though that there’s no time limit on the conversations, Yahoo found that among early users, there’s a tendency towards “high burst, high frequency, shorter conversations.” Asked whether Yahoo sees this as a competitor to Snapchat, he said, “I don’t think so,” because “people use lots of communication tools.” If anything, he said this could take the place of regular texting. Last week Yahoo reported its second-quarter revenue rose 15% to $1.24 billion, as its mobile segment drove its highest quarterly revenue increase in almost nine years. As for making money, Cahan said, “Once you get to scale, there are opportunities to monetize” — Yahoo plans to focusing on the opportunities that are “native” to the platform. Earlier this month the company unveiled a retooled version of its fantasy-sports mobile app that lets users wager real money daily and weekly against their friends and in bigger online tournaments.

More from WSJ.D: And make sure to visit WSJ.D for all of our news, personal tech coverage, analysis and more, and add our XML feed to your favorite reader. He said “everything’s been built from scratch,” without using any MessageMe technology, but this is what his team wanted to work on: “We didn’t want to create a derivative product. … We wanted to create a brand-new way of communicating.” There’s not even an option in the app to turn on audio, so she couldn’t hear anything he was saying as the video feed from her phone broadcast on a screen in front of the room. “She has no idea whether we’re talking about her positively or negatively,” Cahan mentioned.

Like everybody else, Yahoo sees potential for monetizing a messaging app. “There are plenty of options to monetize,” Cahan said. “Content, payments, even advertising.”

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