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Understanding the Meerkat live-streaming magic

Mike Elgan | March 16, 2015
You're going to be hearing a lot about a new app called Meerkat.

You're going to be hearing a lot about a new app called Meerkat.

Meerkat enables you to stream live video from your phone. The quality of the stream is very good. You can stream for an unlimited amount of time. And it's free.

When you start streaming with Meerkat, the stream is automatically announced on Twitter in a tweet with a link to the stream on the MeerkatApp.co website. It's also announced inside the app for users who are following you on Twitter and also using Meerkat.

Replies to the tweet are treated as comments, which show up superimposed on the live-streaming video, at least for users who are viewing in the app.

Meerkat live video streams, which are being called "Meerkasts" (a word that Jason Hitchcock claims to have coined), are almost real-time. There's a delay of about 30 seconds, give or take 20 seconds. Plus, you can schedule them so people know when to tune in.

At present, Meerkat depends entirely on two products: Twitter and Apple's iOS operating system. You need both. Twitter is required for user identity and comments. The streaming feature is only possible with iOS.

Meerkat has released an unofficial Android app for viewing Meerkat streams, but it doesn't work very well yet. Expect full Android support in the coming weeks.

The company that makes Meerkat is called Life On Air. Its CEO, Ben Rubin, says a huge number of people watch Meerkat videos for hours every day.

And it's true: It's super compelling to watch Meerkat videos. And it's super compelling to stream them.

(If you'd like to give it a try, just follow me on Twitter at @MikeElgan, then download the Meerkat app and find me there.)

Meerkat has achieved that rare balance of features that make it a crowd-pleasing hit.

After using and rooting for Google's Video Hangouts and Hangouts-on-Air features (the latter being a live-streaming video service), I believe I understand why Hangouts-on-Air never took off and why Meerkat will.

Here's why Meerkat is so appealing.

Meerkat fixes the stage-fright problem

I watched Google's live-streaming Hangouts on Air feature take off on Google+. Everybody was talking about it. But eventually it came to be used by only three kinds of people. The first was a tiny minority of Google+ users who were bold, verbose and engaged enough to enjoy the spotlight. The second was another tiny minority of people who were invited to participate in officially organized panels and press-conference type events. And the third was yet another tiny minority — performers. Musicians, actors and others took to Hangouts on Air to find an audience.

The trouble with those three groups is that they were minorities of the total user population, not majorities — and majorities are required for something to go mainstream.

 

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