Idea Blog

No More Reruns: Periscope, Meerkat, and the ability to Broadcast Yourself

Andrew Tate 06.25.2015

BY ANDREW TATE

I have just had a delightful tour of a refrigerator. It wasn’t the healthiest-stocked of fridges that I have seen – a lot of soda, some fruit cups, and a few vegetables at the bottom – but it was clean and plentiful. What’s unique, however, is that the fridge in question is owned by someone named Ryan, who lives almost 1000 miles away from me (in Milwaukee, WI), and I watched this tour alongside about 30 other people from all over the world.

Welcome to Periscope.

Periscope

Periscope, and its smaller rival Meerkat, are only two of a new kind of app that let you live-stream video from your phone to anyone across the globe. Users can comment and, in the case of Periscope, ‘heart’ you stream. Although the concept of “hearting” may not seem novel (thinking “liking” or “favoritng”), what is groundbreaking is that this feedback allows for two-way communication that you do not usually get in broadcasting. With this set-up, viewers are able to interact with the stream in real-time; asking questions, providing suggestions and guiding the streamer around.

First ≠ Best

It doesn’t matter if you are the first, only that you are the best. There were plenty of social networks around before Facebook, but only Facebook really caught the public’s imagination and filled that niche adeptly. And so even though video-streaming has been around for a while, Periscope and Meerkat are the first to package the idea in an easy-to-use app that is getting people excited.

Meerkat

Meerkat is learning this lesson the hard way. They launched a few weeks before Periscope to much fanfare at SXSW, but have thus far rapidly been overtaken by Periscope. The main difference, currently, between the two is the ability to replay. Meerkat is for the moment. There is no recording, so you either watch it live or not at all. Periscope, however, lets you replay the action for up to 24 hours after the live event, along with all of the comments and hearts. This has thus far given Periscope the upper hand, but perhaps even more important than this amenity is the fact that Periscope is now owned by Twitter (meaning that it’s being nicely integrated into an already-established platform, as well as backed by large capital).

As with most new tech, there’s usually an initially flurry of activity followed by a post-binge depression as everyone asks ‘what’s the point?’ With Periscope and Meerkat that time will likely soon come, but for now we are still in that first flush of love—with people live-streaming anything they can put in front of their phones—hence the fascination with fridges. The hashtags #fridgeview and #showusyourfridge are the hot topics on the app at the moment, and are becoming the first memes of Periscope. There are plenty of other minutiae on the apps as well. As I sit here writing this, there are streams offering a tour of someone’s backyard, a glimpse at sunbathers in real-time, and, worryingly, someone driving down the interstate. There are the obligatory NSFW feeds as well, though both Periscope and Meerkat seem adept at taking those down.

A million little reporters

I can understand if sunbathers and backyard tours don’t immediately capture your fascination, but the next step, though, is going to be interesting. These apps will likely come into their own when the next national or global incident occurs. A first indication of this came recently, when an explosion rocked the Lower East Side in Manhattan. Within seconds Periscope feeds were online streaming the incident live, from multiple viewpoints. Of course, there was no real commentary to go along with the video, but you could still see live video from the scene almost immediately.

This may do for broadcast journalism what Twitter did for print journalism. Whereas big stories are now often broken on Twitter—with the news headlines spreading around the world within minutes, faster than any big news organizations can cope—Periscope et al. can do the same for video. Giving you live video from anyone on the scene, armed and ready with their iPhone before the big news vans can come along. Sound like a stretch? Maybe, but already many news segments are using grainy footage from ‘citizen journalists’ to provide and in-the-moment, eyewitness account. So it’s not a big leap to think that soon that kind of coverage will be replaced with something like Periscope feeds.

Twitter was integral to the Arab Spring of 2011, allowing protestors and campaigners to spread their messages outside of official, sanctioned channels. One could easily imagine Periscope being used in the next wave of demonstrations and protests, with live-streaming of critical moments being beamed instantly across the world. With this type of immediate transparency, comes a whole new set of interesting questions: Will authorities be more restrained if they know a thousand cameras were watching? Will procedure or behavior be altered with everything so publicly displayed? Imagine a Ferguson-like incident happening tomorrow. Would the police have been quite so gung-ho in front of the cameras?

Although it might seem like we already have the tools to make this happen, what’s really missing at the moment is any genuine commentary to go with the video. But I suspect that will soon change. I imagine that in the coming months a few Periscope users will start to stand out from the rest, as the ones with the feeds to watch. In this way it is like suddenly having a million channels to watch. Most are going to be dreadful, but a few are going to be excellent. Some will be hard-hitting news, with these ‘periscopers’ heading off to the next demonstration to stream live from within the action.

The art of live-streaming

Though Periscope is currently winning this battle, I can’t help but wonder if Meerkat actually has the right attitude. Everything we now do is recorded. You can look at every photo you have every taken, every YouTube video you ever watched, every tweet you have ever sent, every email, every Facebook post. We no longer have to live in the moment if we do not want, as we can always rewatch and relive. But with Meerkat you are forced to live life in the present.

Meerkat forces you to either catch what it shown in the moment or never see it at all. This kind of viewing then becomes more like theater—where, even if the same show, or feed, is shown every night—and there is something inherently special about that. Tune in now and be part of the present before it disappears in front of your eyes, lost and ignored for eternity.

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