Video goes social. Yes, more than before.

Yesterday I tried out Meerkat. While walking the dog. Big mistake. It was fun, easy to use, and it uploaded to Twitter right away with an attention-grabbing |LIVE NOW|. I loved it. But our dog is a bit rambunctious and I discovered that Meerkat is better with two hands. It’s just as well that no-one saw it.

This morning I tried out Periscope. I was standing at my bedroom window in front of a stunning sunrise, and I felt like sharing. Again, fun, and easy to use, and even though I didn’t realize that you need to activate the Twitter upload function (first time and all), I was suddenly accompanied by people from Greece, from Russia, from Italy, some even in Madrid, all of us enjoying the same sunrise. I loved it.

periscope 27-3-15

Periscope has been on general release for all of one day, and already it is flooded with inane but charming videos from all over the world. I don’t understand why it is so addictive, but it is. Checking in with someone having his breakfast in San Francisco, like I did last night… Tagging along on a live video tour of Yahoo’s offices in Madrid this morning… Chuckling at pet antics, watching the waves roll in, dodging taxis in downtown city traffic… Yes, a dangerous time waster, but one of the most perfect examples I’ve seen of the sheer scale of connectivity the Internet now allows.

Could live video streaming turn social media upside down?

Twitter seems to have seen this coming, as it bought Periscope in January, before it even launched, for $100 million. Others see the potential as well, since Meerkat has just announced successful completion of a $14 million funding round from GreyLock Partners and others. Meerkat seamlessly posts your feeds to Twitter, but can no longer integrate its API, which in techno-speak means that you can’t automatically follow all your Twitter followers, as you now can with Periscope.


Another advantage that Periscope has over Meerkat, for now, is the ability to easily save and upload your video, for non-live watching (Meerkat does allow you to save to your device and then upload to wherever, for example YouTube). Periscope allows for private broadcasts, and if Meerkat also does, I couldn’t figure out how. Oh, and the hearts. People can send you floaty colourful hearts if they like your broadcast by tapping on the screen.

In terms of traffic and market share, the volume of content and users on Periscope is surprising, but only until you take into account the amount of press coverage the service received yesterday. Is it an initial burst of curiosity? Will the traffic die off over the next few weeks as the early adopters move on to other things? Are we that fickle?

Yes, we are that fickle, but I think that with Periscope we’ll make an exception. I think that Periscope (and Meerkat) will change how we see social. The colour, layers and nuances of video make simple text look even more dry and efficient than it actually is.

Live-streaming video is nothing new (YouNow, Bambuser, Veetle), yet it has not really caught on before. As far as I know, no live social video app got anything like the buzz of Meerkat and Periscope over the past couple of weeks, and the corpses of failed initiatives (Viddy, Qik) add a sombre tone to the social timeline.

So why the sudden resurgence of interest? In many ways, we’re way more ready for this now than we were even as little as a year ago. On average, our phones are faster and the cameras are of better quality. We know a lot more about usability. And we’re a lot less afraid of the intrusiveness of social media. We’re less media-shy (at least, I know I am). We’re less interested in the perfection of a studio broadcast with perfect lighting and good makeup, and more drawn to authenticity, to honesty and to connections with people who look like us (terrible lighting, not-so-good makeup). We’re less afraid of looking silly or having people comment on our messy hair.

And, maybe we’re looking at better app marketing. The roll-out of Periscope was impressive, and curiously enough, the fact that Tyra Banks was recruited as the star-power for the beta testing is not what is grabbing headlines. They all seem to focus more on “live video” and “Twitter”. Live video app launched more or less the same time as Meerkat, but hasn’t managed to generate the same level of media attention. Vine led the way on video sharing, Twitter has trained us to broadcast, and it could well be that the live video apps that came before were simply ahead of their time.

Or, it could also be that they weren’t as fun to use.

I’ve never been remotely interested in live video. Until now. I think that Periscope is a lot of fun, and I love that you can comment and chat while the video is running. Tapping the screen to send coloured hearts to the broadcaster is strangely satisfying. And it is so easy to use. The social aspect is intriguing, what Ben Rubin, the founder of Meerkat, calls “spontaneous togetherness”, much like bumping into a bunch of friends on the street, but oh-so bigger. The random, serendipitous voyeurism that connects complete strangers is what Internet social is all about. With video it’s so much more alive and entertaining.

Interview of White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Meerkat

Interview of White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Meerkat

But what I find really interesting are the potential effects on communication and culture, once we have mass adoption.

For brands, this could herald a new way to test interest and reaction: who opens the video (does the title work)? Who hearts it? How much interaction via comments? “Moment marketing” is already becoming a thing, with campaigns adapting to real-time events (game scores, contest outcomes, technical errors, etc.), but the immediacy of live video will bring it to the fore.

How will this affect sports games? For quality of broadcast and commentary, I imagine the paid cable or streaming channels don’t have too much to worry about for now.

Music? Live mini-concerts from budding musicians all over the world? Even known musicians might feel the need to give a promoted live concert over streaming video, just to generate buzz, or if a sponsor pays them to do so. Poetry? Literature? Scheduled readings? Watching an artist work? Could this affect the way we consume culture?

What about theatre, dance, concerts and other live performances? How are artistic rights affected if someone who paid for a ticket livestreams all or even just part of an event?

Conferences, trade fairs and industry gatherings? I love the idea of being able to “sample” events from all over the world. I’ve just spent a few minutes in Mashable’s #SocialGood conference in London. Interesting.

News? Live video on our news broadcasts is nothing new, but we have to go to their channels to see them, and except for the 24 hour stations and for major events, they’re limited to the news program schedule. Now, we can get live news video pushed to our mobile phones. We’re told when something is happening, and a simple tap will take us there. So much easier.

And as for how it will affect the porn industry, let’s not even go there. Within minutes of its release, Periscope was being used to transmit, well, you know… I assume that they’ll get the screening algorithms sorted out.

If I were going to invest a lot of money in a business right now, it would be in mobile phone tripods. Yes, I know that they already exist, but they are not yet mainstream. Very soon, every mobile phone user will need one, to film the party, the speech, the family meal or the tutorial that we will no doubt all soon be sharing with anyone and everyone. Content overload reaches the next level? We’re going to need to re-set our filters.

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