Meerkat, Periscope, and Hope

on April 1, 2015

Meerkat & Periscope logosI’ll give Ben Rubin some credit. Ready to launch his product and with a upcoming rival from Twitter breathing down his neck, the CEO of Meerkat launched the product in time for South by Southwest’s technology segment. SXSW, loaded with hundreds of tech reporters with little to do but eat and drink, is a great place to release a new product, especially one that offers lots of novelty.

It got what it wanted. As Casey Newton declared on The Verge:

The live-streaming app built from the ashes of a stagnant app named Yevvo took Austin by storm this year. Festival-goers used it to stream concerts, panels, pedicab rides, and strolls down Cesar Chavez Street.

While attending the live taping of a podcast, I noticed the man sitting in front of me Meerkatting the first few minutes. The previous day, some Verge friends and I shot a three-way Meerkat of us Meerkatting (( Verge’s spelling. What can I say. )) each other. (It was self-indulgent, terrible, and watched by more than 100 people.)

Of course, the glory of Meerkat was short lived. Right after SXSW, Twitter announced the similar Periscope, a step that was no secret as Twitter had bought Periscope just a couple of weeks earlier and was active in trying to restrict Meerkat. The flock of Meerkat acquirers installed Periscope on the iPhones and were putting out a fresh flood of live videos on the new service.

Meerkat-Periscope graph

Although there were some skeptical posts, the initial reports to both services left them excited. But to anyone paying attention, there should have been a lot of questions, even with financial issues aside. Some serious problems were immediately seen. One is that making even tolerable videos live isn’t easy and the overwhelming majority of Meerkat and Periscope posts are dreadful. (You can see samples at any time on Mac or Windows by going to the web pages if you don’t want to install the apps or lack an iPhone — Periscope is only available on an Apple phone now.) As Mic Wright said in The Next Web: “Periscope and Meerkat have flooded our social streams with hours of awful new content, just like Snapchat and Vine before them.”

Another issue — you must be able to drop what you are doing whenever you get a notice and watch a live video. If you don’t see it then, it’s gone. Finally, students, workers, and other who surreptitiously deal with text messages or tweets while they are supposed to be doing something else usually don’t have access to video that usually depends on some audio.

Even for most actual live news, these services leave something to be desired. Laura Abernethy’s Guardian article in praise of the benefits of the apps to news services said:

When a building collapsed in New York City’s East Village, bystanders began sharing what they could see with Periscope. The Huffington Post publicised a link to one of the streams on Twitter and at one stage, one stream had more than 600 people watching.

The problem is that 600 people, or the 600 to 700 that watched a Los Angeles car chase on both Periscope and Meerkat, are very small audiences. A cute cat video on YouTube is likely to have far more viewers at any time. Unless you have nothing better to do with your time, you are going to miss even good live videos if you don’t have time to drop everything each time a possibly interesting notice hits your screen.

The slow growth of both services after a jump and slump suggest that rapid, extended growth of these services isn’t likely to happen. Periscope clearly exists to be integrated in some way with Twitter. It’s not clear exactly how it will be changed to make its service work, but videos attached to tweets could resemble Facebook videos. Meerkat, which has a new $12 million investment led by Greylock and a $40 million value, has no obvious means to generate income and is probably looking for a buyer that could bring it into a service.

Meanwhile, those who follow tech news from SXSW should give the flood of one or more products that will probably come out next year a cautious view. Twitter did not actually launch at SXSW but it made a hit in its success there in 2008. It’s worth remembering, however, that it took several years before Twitter became wildly popular. On the other hand, there was FourSquare, which got great publicity for helping SXSW participants find each other at parties. Like Meerkat, it was greeted as the new mobile miracle. Anyone you know still using it?

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If you are an Insider, check out Tim Bajarin’s The Good, the Great, and the Ugly of Meerkat and Periscope.