Meerkats and Periscopes: The future of live streaming?

With the rise of iOS apps such as Meerkat and Periscope, it looks like live mobile video streaming is set to be the next big thing in social media. In our latest post in the Sookio Labs series, we look at the differences between the two rivals hoping to become the live-streaming app of choice for early adopters.

What are Meerkat and Periscope?

Meerkat is a live-streaming mobile app which launched in February and has seen a rapid rise since taking off at this year’s SXSW festival. Even Oscar-winner Jared Leto’s poured money into the app. But last month, competition loomed as Twitter launched Periscope - a rival app, developed by a startup with the same name, which was acquired by Twitter in January.

Meerkat relies heavily on Twitter’s platform and Periscope’s launch came shortly after Twitter controversially blocked Meerkat from accessing its social graph (the data which shows who follows who on Twitter) to help users find people. Meerkat’s solution has been to add a search feature.

How do the live-streaming apps work?

To use Meerkat, you log on with your Twitter handle. You hit a button and you’re immediately streaming; your followers can watch, click like, ‘re-stream’ and submit comments that pop up in real time in the lower-left-hand corner of the screen. Meerkat sends an automatic “LIVE NOW” Tweet on your behalf when you’re streaming to alert users to engage in the spontaneous activity, for e.g. one of your followers in New York is live-streaming extreme weather from Central Park.

Periscope functions a lot like Meerkat with one notable difference: once a live stream is over, Periscope allows the creator to save the video to their camera roll/profile and users can view a replay of the stream for up to 24 hours. Whereas Meerkat doesn't offer such functionality - once a stream is over, it's done.

So who's winning right now?

There is generally a bit more engagement going on with Periscope. In contrast to Meerkat’s push notification, users of Periscope have full Twitter access and automatically get a Tweet sent out to anyone who follows them along with a link taking them to the live feed.

The app gives you a constantly changing list of live video right now. It has three featured videos at the top, then a big list of other videos from all over the world. With the opportunity for discovering new streams it means you'll be more likely to find something you like. There's also a people button, which lets you follow more users so the live videos keep rolling in. 

You can like a video as many times as you want by tapping the screen. Liking a post causes a floating heart (that looks a bit like a soda bubble) to appear in the lower right-hand corner of the app, and as a broadcaster, you can see in real time which parts of your broadcast are most interesting to the audience.

There’s also location tagging. When you open the Periscope app, you see a list of live feeds from around the world, many of which are tagged by city. So for e.g. if you’re wanting to know about an event in the French capital, you’re able to choose streams marked "Paris" to find live video. To view a map during a stream, you swipe right.

Periscope can also be used for private broadcasts. “If you want to broadcast to specific people, press the lock icon before going live and choose who you want to invite to your broadcast,” explains its App Store listing.

How can live-streaming be used?

At SXSW, Meerkat founder Ben Rubin cited several use cases; from churches using the app for worship services to estate agents scheduling live-streams for an apartment showing. Even well-known personalities like Tony Hawk were trying it out. Live-streaming is a potential game-changer for news, brands organisations like the police and even political parties.

I think one of the popular uses for the apps will be conducting Q&As. It makes sense to broadcast and engage with an audience in real-time. This could be celebrities to their fans and even customer service clinics. During live group support sessions, multiple requests have the potential to be monitored and responded to quickly with minimal resources.

The apps are a great platform to make announcements and company news. Who doesn’t like being the first to know something? There is the opportunity to make your audience feel part of your brand, giving them a virtual seat at your ‘press conference’. Candid insider views will allow markets to get a sneak peek of what happens at your company, creating a stronger connection.

Product and service demos that are interactive will also allow for live and instant feedback. There is potential to tap into the direction that Google Hangouts on Air took: people who are in your Google “circles” can participate and anyone with a Gmail address can watch (see Chevrolet/Manchester United and ASOS examples).

Digitally pioneering fashion brand Burberry was one of the first to live-stream its catwalk shows online and many more brands and business will follow suit now that this function is more accessible by going mobile.

For businesses, there is a need for strategy and plan to avoid disappointing both parties. Live-streaming is as much about withholding as it is about opening up.

What’s the future for Meerkat and Periscope?

Meerkat and Periscope are the new wave of apps conceived in a mobile climate that has better 3G and 4G networks to deliver the video that these apps produce, while mobile data contracts ensure it isn’t ridiculously expensive to broadcast or watch content.

Instagram and Vine have already proven the demand for micro vlogging. And you can even get creative with these apps. But what the live-streaming apps have is the spontaneous, real-time factor – and you can’t get any more real-time that straight up live. There’s no waiting for the person behind the camera to pick a filter or edit; you get to see what they’re seeing as it is happening, therein providing a totally different service to Instagram, Vine and eve YouTube.

Be prepared for a whole new wave of citizen journalism with much more access to a news story. “What if you could see through the eyes of a protester in Ukraine? Or watch the sunrise from a hot air balloon in Cappadocia?” the Periscope team blog asks. “It may sound crazy, but we wanted to build the closest thing to teleportation.”

With every leap forward for social media comes the ethical considerations to be made when using technology and broadcasting content from unregulated outlets. Live-streaming a scene with fatalities for instance – where is the line between justified footage that giving unprecedented access and macabre voyeurism? There are also concerns over privacy and copyright.

The two rivals are still working on apps for Android, and users have already been quick to point out the flaws. One Fast Company editor pointed out that despite location tagging being one of Periscope’s best features, many users were unknowingly revealing their home addresses. Users could pinch to zoom in or out of the map, but this zoom feature has since been disabled. There’s also a need for a search or discovery function and a scope for the content to live on rather than be ephemeral.

Without access to Twitter’s social graph it will be harder for Meerkat to build a community around new uses. Upon its launch, Periscope broke into the US iPhone top-30 chart – a rare feat for a social media app, while Meerkat collapsed to number 523. Time will tell as to whether Periscope eclipses Meerkat, but the introduction of these apps confirms that live-streaming is here to stay and will continue to rise.