Yahoo Unveils Its Audio-Free Video Messaging App, Livetext

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Yahoo has officially announced Livetext, an app where users chat with friends by sharing video and text — but no sound.

A couple of weeks ago, we spotted the Livetext app in the Apple App Store in Hong Kong. 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. During the demo, Senior Director of Product Management Arjun Sethi started live messaging sessions with several friends and co-workers. They shared video footage with each other, making faces and showing off their surroundings. Then they started texting — the content was similar to many other text conversations, with random comments, questions and emojis, but superimposed on a video.

livetext event

In order to connect with others on Livetext, both users have to agree to become friends with each other. 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.

Taking away the sound has some novelty, but what does it actually add to the experience? Adam Cahan, Yahoo’s senior director of video, design and emerging products, said that in the company’s research, it found that people were hesitant to use video messaging because “it feels like you need to make an appointment.”

So without audio, Cahan said the experience becomes simpler, with less stress — you’re more likely to start a quick video session even if you’re in the middle of something else, and even if there’s a lot of background noise. He compared it to text messaging, but with the additional emotional context (like actually laughing on screen rather than typing LOL). 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.

By the way, Sethi joined Yahoo through the acquisition of MessageMe last fall. 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.”

Yahoo plans to release the app on both iOS and Android tomorrow. You can already see the iTunes page here.

You can read more in this Yahoo blog post. I’m also hoping to post some video of the app in action later today.