Yahoo’s new Livetext chat service combines traditional text messages with a silent video feed between the two people chatting.
Yahoo is quite late to the world of mobile messaging, but you’ve got to give it some credit: The new chat service it finally debuted Wednesday sure is different from the rest of them.
The app, Livetext, combines traditional text messages with a silent video feed between the two people chatting. You read that right — video, but no sound.
Yahoo says it wants Livetext to be used for quick sessions just like regular texting, but with the emotions conveyed by seeing a person’s face. Eliminating audio means you can use it anywhere — in a meeting, on a noisy street, during class, on a train.
“It’s a new way to communicate: casual text on top of video,” said Arjun Sethi, a senior director of product management at Yahoo and head of the Livetext project.
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As Facebook, Google, Tencent and WhatsApp introduced mobile chat apps and gained hundreds of millions of users, Yahoo floundered in its attempts to update its Yahoo Messenger service, designed a generation ago. Last year, Yahoo essentially gave up and stopped updating Messenger’s mobile apps.
Livetext is different, based on technology developed by MessageMe, a startup co-founded by Sethi that Yahoo bought last fall. It combines elements of video chats with the disappearing nature of Snapchat messages.
“The key thing for us was to make this as simple as possible,” said Adam Cahan, Yahoo’s senior vice president of video, design and emerging products.
As Yahoo developed the product, engineers tested it at Ohio State University and the University of California, Santa Barbara, and also offered it to groups of high-school students. In the last few weeks, the company began offering the app publicly in mobile app stores in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Ireland.
Yahoo was impressed with the results. “When somebody first tries it, there is a bit of a moment of ‘Aha! I didn’t expect that,’ ” Cahan said.
Cahan said the choice to exclude sound, as odd as it seems, was deliberate. “I can barely ever use a video-chat experience,” he said. “I feel like I need to make an appointment with someone.”
Silent video, on the other hand, can be used in almost any situation where text chats are possible, with the added bonus of conveying a person’s emotions and a sense of place.
Video isn’t saved on the phone or by Yahoo. And u the texts disappear once the chat session is ended.
The app will be released in iOS and Android app stores Thursday.