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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.

There are a million reasons for people to be wary of joining a Hangout on Air. They might not want to appear on camera — or perhaps they don't want their homes to appear on camera. Or they might be concerned that they'll do something embarrassing and it will be posted on YouTube forever. For reasons like those, and many more, most people never wanted to do a Hangout on Air.

Meerkat greatly reduces the stage-fright problem by making streams ephemeral — like Snapchat photos. During live streams, it's impossible to rewind or replay anything. Once the streaming is done, the video is gone. (It is possible, however, for the person who launched the stream to download a copy of the video.)

While Hangouts on Air felt scary and consequential, Meerkasts feel far less so.

Watching a Meerkast is also an introvert-friendly activity. Viewers get to participate, but only with their words. They don't have to put their faces on video in order to participate in a conversation. Lurking is the default mode, but anyone can chime in at any time.

Meerkat fixes the authenticity problem

There's something about having a camera in your face (with the knowledge that lots of people are watching) that causes people to perform — to be fake. If you look at YouTube stars — and, well, everyone on YouTube who has a vlog or "show" or recurring posts — you'll notice that they're not being themselves.

The more successful YouTube personalities have figured out how to fake authenticity, and that's one of the reasons they're successful. People crave authenticity.

Because Meerkat is ephemeral and the audience is involved through the on-screen comments, it's much easier to be yourself during a Meerkast.

Meerkat fixes the ambience problem

In the early days of Google+ Hangouts, I called in this space for everyone to try "ambient Hangouts." The idea was that instead of feeling the pressure to talk or do something while you're in a Hangout, it's OK to just connect via video and go on with your day — as if you and your friends were in the same room.

It didn't stick. A Hangout makes you feel like you're on stage in front of a microphone.

Meerkat, on the other hand, is great for ambient video streaming. I've streamed Meerkasts for hours at a time while I'm doing other things like working, or even hiking, and it's very easy and comfortable to do. (I think my record so far is five hours.) People enjoy a window into the lives of others.

And because Meerkasts can be so informal and inconsequential, watching can be ambient, too. As I write this, I'm watching a Meerkast by someone named Ben Young, who's simply showing a spectacular view out his window in Manhattan. I feel like I have that window, even though I'm in California.

 

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