Yahoo unveils app for texting with silent video

29 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Yahoo Livetext offers texting with video…without sound.

Once upon a time, Yahoo Messenger was mighty. New Yorlk (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.Yahoo is quite late to the world of mobile messaging, but you’ve got to give the company some credit: The new chat service it finally debuted on Wednesday sure is different from the rest of them. 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.

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. So you can emote with your face while you type with your thumbs, as if you were on either side of a soundproof partition in jail, but the little phone you’re supposed to talk on wasn’t working, but you both had, say iPod touches to text each other, but you couldn’t just Skype or FaceTime or Snapchat or Facebook Messenger or Hangout or Line or WeChat or whatever the kids are doing these days. “Every platform shift leads to new forms of communication, driven by our desire to connect and interact in richer ways,” said Adam Cahan, Senior Vice President of Video, Design, and Emerging Products, in a press release. “We wanted to create a new way to communicate, blending the simplicity of texting with the emotion and immediacy of live video, to make your experience spontaneous and real.” The app launches in the App Store and Google Play Store on July 30 in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Germany, and France.

Then they started texting too — the content was similar to many other text conversations, with random comments, questions and emojis, but superimposed on a video. As Facebook, Google, Tencent and WhatsApp introduced mobile chat apps in recent years and gained hundreds of millions of users, Yahoo floundered in its attempts to update its Yahoo Messenger service, a web service designed a generation ago. 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 like that’s a priority.

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. As Yahoo developed the product, engineers tested it at Ohio State University and the University of California at Santa Barbara, and also offered it to groups of high school students.

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. But it feels like after spending a few minutes with it, you’ll just want to hop to Periscope or FaceTime because the app doesn’t let you pipe in audio even if you want it. The beauty of Livetext’s vow of silence, Cahan continues, is that it means you can open the app anywhere: in a concert, in class, in a meeting. “I don’t care if I’m anywhere, because you get that sense of it’s just an instantaneous experience.” So much of the app’s development, he says, was in making everything fast and simple enough that you didn’t have time to worry about how you looked or where you were. When Yahoo was looking into building another messenger app, they decided to try and split the difference between appointment messaging, like phone calls and video chats, and totally asynchronous things like texting. The goal: to give people a way to feel more connected, to get more information than just words in a green bubble, without it feeling interruptive or complicated.

The Livetext team, led by Arjun Sethi, a product manager who came to Yahoo when it acquired MessageMe in 2014, has been testing the app constantly—first in private user tests, and most recently, publicly in Hong Kong. Sethi says it always goes the same way: “There’s an immediate reaction to it, which is, ‘This is weird.’” That was certainly my own initial reaction. I feel the need to say bye in every message, and laugh uproariously at everyone’s jokes because just typing LOL won’t do me any good when my friends can see I didn’t actually LOL. That having someone else around actually made everything go quicker, because thumbs-up emojis could be replaced by actual thumbs actually up, and conversations can be shorter and more because I don’t have to type “…” or “haha.” I can just make faces.

Younger users tend to pick it up even faster, he says. “They felt it was easier, faster, and they were able to connect in ways they just couldn’t before… It ended up being so frequent and so fast, they saw their friends for two minutes, [or] 20 seconds.” Livetext isn’t a would-be Facebook Messenger/Hangouts/Whatsapp/Kik/Line killer.

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