What does the Twitter live streaming app Meerkat actually do?

Hansel. So hot right now.

Meerkat is, in Zoolander-speak, so hot right now. The Twitter live streaming app has been picking up thousands of users all week, with media coverage to match.

So why all the fuss? It’s hard to say. Technically Meerkat doesn’t break any new ground: Twitcasting (an app I’ve always particularly liked) has been around since 2010 and has gained particular popularity in Japan, while Twitcam has been around even longer.

For the past week I’ve been playing with the app and get a feel for its strengths and weaknesses. Below is a video summing up some of my impressions so far – and also showing what a streamed video looks like when you save it and upload it to the web (with some added YouTube annotations).

Here are some of the key points:

Portrait or close-up portrait

It records in portrait.

Even if you try to shoot in landscape by rotating your device it will actually record a closer-cropped section of that landscape view in portrait.

So what you see on your phone (landscape) is not what the end user is seeing. As a result you can end up with things going off-screen without you knowing it (as happens in the video above).

Scheduling and delays

There’s a significant delay (10-20 seconds) between recording action and those actions appearing on screen (as you can see at the start of the video above), so don’t expect instant responses.

You can ‘schedule‘ your live stream. This is it’s major USP as it builds anticipation and also forces the person filming to think more about the stream, as Meerkat CEO Ben Rubin points out:

“Introducing scheduling makes it very interesting. When’s the next time you’re going to do something awesome?” Someone might think twice about a boring desk-bound livestream if they’re planning it in advance.”

But for scheduling to work you have to have the app open at the scheduled time. This means you have to plan carefully – or schedule at short notice (five minutes is the shortest possible lead-in time).

Comments and Twitter

You can see comments on screen as you film with the app – but comments are not recorded in the video itself.

Any comments within the Meerkat app appear on Twitter @ your name. I’m guessing this is because you need to authorise Twitter to view the videos: this enables it to send those comments as tweets on your behalf.

As a result, if you make any comments in Meerkat, they will be published on Twitter addressed to yourself, which can be confusing or embarrassing for those following you on Twitter.

What’s the big attraction?

What’s the sudden appeal of the tool? Recommendation by one key platform has certainly helped, and the hype cycle has generated its own self-perpetuating curiosity loop. Rubin is refreshingly sceptical about this: “I’ve seen my product go through word of mouth before and I’ve seen it wear off. I know what that feels like in a week.”

But there’s also timing: Twitcam and Twitcasting launched as one of a land-grab of ‘Twitter apps’ including Twitpic. Meerkat’s launch is part of a different wave of chat apps including Snapchat and WhatsApp, with the built-in ephemerality that those have brought.

And as Josh Constine writes:

“Meerkat “just works”, in large part thanks to being built atop Twitter. It mirrors your Twitter graph, so anyone you follow or are followed by there is automatically connected to you on Meerkat. In app you’ll see any of you connections who currently on the air, but otherwise it doesn’t have its own feed. Meerkat streams go viral on Twitter instead.”

Elsewhere Adam Gabbatt has also road-tested the app, noting that

“viewers’ profile images will remain on screen long after they have closed down your broadcast. It leads to a false sense of importance, as well as (potentially) encouraging people to continue their live-streaming even if no one is watching.”

Have you played with the app or watched its streams? Let me know what you think works and doesn’t.

13 thoughts on “What does the Twitter live streaming app Meerkat actually do?

  1. Desi Velikova (@DesiVelikova)

    Great review! I agree users have to be careful with privacy issues, I personally annoyed a couple of people (intentionally!) already. Plus – their Privacy Policy

    The challenge now is if brands will manage to utilise it commercially, as this is essential for the app to really take off. In the terms of service they mention that “The Services may include advertisements”, which will be a game changer. It’s also kind of revolutionary for citizen journalism.

    And it’s soo addictive, I have to switch off my notifications! Love watching random streams from all around the world.

  2. johnpopham

    I don’t get the proliferation of apps that shoot in portrait. Why not expand horizons rather than contract the world?

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  11. Obi N

    Indeed timing is everything, as in the case of Twitcam, TwitCasting etc. Does sound like same model as Beepcast app. But hey someone has to catch the hype-bug.

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