Yahoo unveils new live video and texting app

29 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Yahoo Livetext offers texting with video…without sound.

Yahoo Livetext allows users to connect by streaming video one-on-one like Apple’s FaceTime or Facebook’s Video Chat. 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. But instead of using audio, the app has a text feature that appears on top of the live video. “While texting is quick and easy, you often miss the meaning of a message, have to explain your reaction (‘LOL’), or wait hours before getting a response,” Arjun Sethi, Yahoo’s senior director for product management, wrote in a blog post Wednesday. “And to actually talk on the phone, you not only have to be available, but you also have to be in a place where you can chat.” “We see video as a way to make your conversations more authentic, and we see text as a way to connect that’s quick and non-intrusive,” Sethi wrote.

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. Earlier this month, the company introduced Yahoo Sports Daily Fantasy, a betting service available on mobile devices that signaled Yahoo’s entrance into the $2.6-billion online sports gambling business. 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.

Asked about its similarity to video streaming apps, Periscope and Meerkat, Adam Cahan, Yahoo’s senior vice president for video, design and emerging products, said Livetext was different because it was built for one-to-one interaction rather than one-to-many. 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. It will become available to download for free on Thursday for iOS and Android, in the U.S., U.K, Canada, Ireland, Germany, France, Hong Kong and Taiwan. 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 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. 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.” 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 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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