This year’s South By South West (SXSW) –the ‘Official Music, Film and Interactive Festival – saw the public release of a video-streaming app called Meerkat. It got a lot of attention, wowing audiences (insomuch as a video-streaming app can) and causing a stir.
Briefly, Meerkat allows instant video streaming from your iOS mobile device, using your Twitter contacts to spread the message and provide a link to the Meerkat website. Anyone can follow your stream, adding comments that appear superimposed at the bottom of the video in real time (or close enough), so the videos can be allow you to interact directly with your audience. Another popular feature is that when the broadcast is finished, it disappears rather than being saved (and potentially appearing on YouTube to embarrass you later), although the person who initiates the stream can download a copy if they choose. A good explanation of the Meerkat model is available here.
Apps that use the ‘Big Three’ social media sites (Facebook, Twitter and Google) are everywhere. Many apps now require you to login using your Facebook details, which is easier for the user, saving them from having to create a new account on every site they regularly visit. Indeed, it is getting to the stage where it is more difficult to operate without a Facebook account. Darren Orf, writing on Gizmodo, referred to these apps as ‘Parasite Apps’ which, while technically accurate, is somewhat denigratory. With the power held by the ‘Big Three’, other developers are forced to use them or face a massive uphill struggle to introduce their own functionality in the face of huge costs – costs that many start-ups simply cannot afford.
Which is why Twitter’s decision to block Meerkat’s access to its social graph could spell the demise of the new app. Without access to the social giant’s ability to automatically tweet out your link, you end up broadcasting into the vacuum, an unheard voice in the wilderness.
Why would Twitter pull such an obviously evil move?
Twitter recently announced the acquisition of the (yet-to-launch) Periscope app for an undisclosed sum that has been placed around the $100m mark.
What does it do?
Well, it’s a video-streaming app that allows users to broadcast directly from their mobile device, automatically tweeting a link to the…
Periscope is very similar to the Meerkat model, with the obvious exception that Periscope has access to the Twitter social graph. That makes all the difference. Without this access, Meerkat is likely to fall behind Periscope pretty rapidly, unless they can do something to challenge Twitter’s dominance of the social media field. Periscope is still in private beta testing, so Meerkat has a short grace period to come up with something to save all their hard work.
Persicope also allows for users to save their broadcasts, which is a double-edged sword. Firstly, it goes right back to the problem that all video streaming apps have, which is that many people don’t want to be on camera. Meerkat solved that by having the videos delete themselves – no one could go back through it and drag out potentially embarrassing clips. On the other hand, being able to save your broadcasts is an excellent marketing tool, allowing you to go back through and take clips from multiple broadcasts and editing together a ‘greatest hits’ compilation.
It seems as though the ‘Big Three’ are destined to dictate what apps we use, either through blocking access to content, acquisitions of smaller companies or technologies, and just being ‘too big to fail’. Is this unfair, or is it simply a reflection of the hard work they have done to get where they are? Is it right of Twitter to block Meerkat in favour of a competing technology, in the full knowledge that there is little that Meerkat can do to challenge them?