Yahoo introduces ‘silent video’ texting app Livetext

Want to show your friend how you feel with a real silly face, not just an emoji? Need more than words to flirt or express frustration?

Yahoo introduced a new video-texting app Wednesday that allows smartphone users to communicate one-on-one using silent, live-streamed messages, part of a push by the Web pioneer to attract an emerging generation addicted to its phones.

Built on the idea that answering cell phone calls has become too cumbersome, especially for young people, Yahoo said its new Livetext product aims to bring more human connections to texting. And it can happen on trains, planes or other places where voice calls might not be appropriate or desired.

Yahoo, fighting to expand its user base beyond middle-aged desktop users, is now jumping into the same mobile messaging market that Snapchat and other platforms already dominate.

“We wanted to bridge the gap between the simplicity and needs of texting” with the live, more emotionally-connected experience of seeing the person you communicate with, said Adam Cahan, Yahoo’s head of video, mobile and emerging products, at a New York event to announce the new consumer product.

“You can actually text somebody and see their immediate reaction to that experience,” Cahan said. He contrasted that with traditional video chat which “feels very formal, and it feels like you need to make an appointment.”

The product launch happened at the Manhattan headquarters of Tumblr, the micro-blogging and social network platform that Yahoo bought for $1.1 billion in 2013.

But the new video messaging product grew from another acquisition last year of San Francisco-based MessageMe. Its co-founder, Arjun Sethi, said Wednesday that “the whole concept of calling is gone.”

Sethi said college students at UC Santa Barbara and Ohio State helped work with Yahoo to test and develop the app. At Wednesday’s event, he demonstrated the app by “livetexting” with 21-year-old pop singer Christina Grimmie, a former competitor on NBC’s The Voice.

Livetext conversations begin after a text is sent. Much like Snapchat, the images and words are not archived after a conversation ends, giving the communications a more ephemeral feel — like real-life chats.

“It’s not a transactional history,” Sethi said. “We want this to be an emotional and memorable experience.”

Yahoo quietly introduced the product at the Hong Kong iTunes app store earlier this month, but declined to say more about it until Wednesday.

It will go live on Thursday on iPhone and Android app stores in the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Germany and France, and is already available in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Users can communicate in English, French, German and traditional Chinese (the characters mostly commonly used in Taiwan and Hong Kong).

Sethi wrote an essay on Medium this spring about the three stages of a consumer product, describing how the most successful transform from a unique novelty into something users come to depend on.

“Consumer products start as a want then turn into a need. In the final phase, which most don’t get to, they evolve into a utility,” Sethi wrote.

He mentioned Instagram (“well on its way through the want phase”), Snapchat (“in the middle of the need phase”), Meerkat (“very early part of the want phase”) and other products.

He didn’t mention Livetext, of course, since his project was still in stealth mode, but he must have thought about how far it would get.

We’ll see if it takes off, and if it gains some of the market that Yahoo desperately needs to offset its ongoing declines in desktop advertising revenue.

Above: Screenshots from Yahoo Livetext, courtesy of Yahoo.


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