Are Periscope and Meerkat the Next Big Thing?

The ability to live-stream something isn’t new; many a person has used Google Hangouts or YouTube to share in real-time with his or her followers. Last year, Amazon spent nearly a billion dollars on Twitch.tv, a forum where people can watch gamers play live. Innumerable tech conferences allow remote viewing.

Although live-streaming wasn’t exactly difficult before, there were also opportunities to make it far easier for anyone to do, which is why Twitter and Meerkat (the latter a startup) have launched respective apps that allow for live-streaming from a smartphone.

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Meerkat officially launched during the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, earlier this month, and quickly developed into a minor sensation. It had roughly two weeks’ worth of relatively unimpeded runway before Twitter launched a rival, Periscope. Both apps are available for iOS, with Android versions apparently in the works; both feature stripped-down interfaces; and both need a strong Wi-Fi or LTE connection in order to broadcast video that doesn’t border on an impressionistic blur of color.

Periscope asks its users to actively flip on microphone, camera, and geolocation whenever they want to begin a stream, which could prevent at least some people from inadvertently broadcasting something they shouldn’t; the “opt in” controls over location could also ease the minds of some privacy advocates, who generally seem to treat new apps like this with a fair degree of skepticism.

Meerkat tries to access the user’s location as soon as they sign on for the first time; like Periscope, it also asks the user to individually turn on the microphone and camera before beginning a streaming session. (Although Meerkat allows users to sign up using Twitter, the social network cut off the app’s access to its social graph, hobbling the ability to add followers.)

Will live-streaming-via-smartphone take off as a medium? Early indicators are good. When an apartment building exploded on 2nd Ave in New York City on March 26, right after Periscope launched, more than a few Periscope-powered streams of the disaster popped up within a few minutes. Within days of Meerkat’s launch, prominent bloggers were using the app to broadcast everything from concerts to tricky plane landings. If that rate of adoption continues at the same pace, “phone streaming” could well become ubiquitous.

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Image: Periscope/Twitter

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