Meerkat

So Meerkating is now a thing.

The immensely popular live-streaming app Meerkat has timed it’s rise to prominence perfectly to coincide with the annual South by Southwest Festival, leading to a storm of Meerkat streams capturing every moment from the intimate conversations between celebrities to front row seats for festival sessions. And it’s fun – it’s amazing to have such a level of access, the closest many of us will ever get to actually being there and experiencing such events as they happens. I’ve loved jumping onto a Meerkat stream and getting Brian Fanzo’s perspective or Gary Vaynerchuck’s insight, all happening right there, as I watch. There’s a lot to like about Meerkat – but it’s time in the sun could be short-lived.

Up Periscope

In January, Twitter purchased Periscope, a video-streaming service that offers pretty much the exact same capabilities as Meerkat, and then some. Twitter’s been working with Periscope since November 2014, and was reportedly polishing the beta version when Meerkat – which was built in just 8 weeks – was released into the social sphere. Reports thus far have indicated that Periscope operates in much the same way as Meerkat – it will function as a separate app and enable Twitter users to create live streams, the links to which are tweeted out to your followers (or to selected users). Periscope will also give users the ability to view live streams or watch previously recorded ones, an option not available via Meerkat. Another point of difference is the comments posted on Periscope won’t show up in your Twitter stream, avoiding those odd half messages or seemingly random comments currently showing up as other users view Meerkat streams. This could be a positive or a negative – while those conversational fragments can seem out of place, they can also spark interest in checking out the link yourself – time will tell if this has any effect on viewers. Reports have suggested that Periscope is far more polished and functional than Meerkat – which makes sense, given the short dev time for Meerkat – but has Periscope missed the boat and enabled Meerkat to establish a foothold, particularly among influential users?

Riding the Blue Bird

There is one other thing working against Meerkat – it’s been built on the back of Twitter’s network. As stated in the Meerkat documentation ‘everything that happens on Meerkat happens on Twitter’, and this could work against them as a competing service. Already, Twitter’s moved to restrict Meerkat’s access to it’s social graph and while it’s unlikely Twitter would cut Meerkat off completely, building their network on Twitter’s land could prove problematic when Periscope does, eventually, get released – though some have also noted that this strategy may end up working in Meerkat’s favour. From it’s inception, Meerkat has adopted a gamification element, in a leaderboard which tracks points scored by users – points are accumulated via actions taken within the app. While accessing Twitter’s graph has definitely given Meerkat a jumpstart, the attention it’s gained since should enable it to build it’s own network – and it’s already evident that they’re working to maintain that attention, with a range of upgrades being rolled out at a rate of one every few days. If Meerkat can hold attention and build sticky relationships with some of the big names who’ve been frequenting the network, Twitter’s restrictions may not slow it’s progress too much.

The Race or the Service?

There was a question posted in a SXSW event over the weekend – an event I was watching via Meerkat, incidentally – and it somewhat gets to the heart of the questions over the future of Meerkat and whether the app will exist long-term. The question, posed by Bryan Kramer, was:

My response to that is the functionality of Meerkat is an extension of social connectivity – it brings everything and everyone another step closer. That’s really the ultimate goal of social media, to facilitate connections between people and groups in order to make the world more open, to enable everyone to be part of the wider conversation. That’s the ethos that Mark Zuckerberg stands by, the mission to connect everyone and harness the power of collaboration to bring about real connection and, ideally, real change. In this vein, Meerkat is a perfect next step, allowing everyone to broadcast easily and from anywhere, in real-time. And in that sense, the platform itself really isn’t the big thing about it.

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Whether it’s Periscope or Meerkat – or something else we haven’t even heard of yet, mobile live-streaming functionality is exciting and innovative – and it’s already got of the world’s best social media minds enamoured and thinking about how to utilise it in new ways.

While I anticipate Periscope being being a great product, even if it renders Meerkat obsolete, time spent learning and seeing what you can do via Meerkat will not be wasted. And maybe there’s room for both apps in the market – maybe some people will better align to the DIY-feel of Meerkat and refuse Periscope even if it’s better. It’s likely that the window of opportunity Meerkat’s been afforded will enable it to establish a loyal audience of some kind – but regardless of how it pans out, the important element to note here is the functionality, the new capability and capacity being offered by this next wave of live-streaming content. Network capacity of the past would’ve meant such innovation was simply impossible. But now, as noted earlier, you might get the opportunity to experience major events from the front row, live streamed by your favourite celebrity him or herself, access you’d never have dreamed of – and a powerful vehicle for engagement and building community.

Rather than getting caught up in the debate about which app will win the final race, take a moment to take in the spectacle of the event. Meerkat’s a fun ride and it’s worth getting onto and considering what benefits it might have for you or your brand.