In March influential tech and pop culture conference SXSW (South by South West) was abuzz about an app that has the potential to rocket social media into a whole new realm. It’s called Meerkat, and it’s streaming live near you right now…all the time.
Created by Ben Rubin, co-founder and CEO of Israeli app developers Life On Air Inc., Meerkat allows users broadcast a live stream for any amount of time, while allowing followers to comment live via Twitter. When users hit record, their Twitter followers are notified that they have started broadcasting, and the followers in turn can watch the feed either via Twitter, or through the Meerkat iOS app. Viewers can then comment on the video, which appears live both as tweets on the Twitter timeline and as comments on the video itself. Initially a side-project intended as a way to live stream conferences and meetings, the app’s popularity spiked within mere days of launch. When it hit SXSW, gained a number of big-name celebrity users like Jimmy Fallon, and Madonna, it ushered in a new era of social media – sharing every detail of our lives, streamed live, 24 hours per day.
When social media was in its infancy in the early 2000s, it was the domain of words. Lengthy blog posts ruled, and while some pictures were featured on social networks like Friendster and MySpace, it wasn’t the main focus. However, as the wave started to build and cameras started becoming standard on mobile phones, pictures started taking the main stage. Now everyone has a camera in their hands, and are able to document their lives with relative ease – moving away even farther from long literary musings of angsty teens. In 2010 photo-sharing app Instagram kicked the wave of sharing images into high gear – entering concepts like ‘food porn’, ‘humble brags’, and the infamous ‘selfie’ into the lexicon. In the background micro-blogging network Twitter was offering users the opportunity to tell the world about their lives in 145 characters at a time, enabling people to the lives of others in easily digestible chunks of information. The company then bought video sharing service Vine just after the app launched in 2012. Vine gave users the opportunity to create short, 15 second videos and post it online via Twitter. Vine was one of the first apps to scratch the surface of video in terms of social media, but while Vine is fun, there’s only so much you can say in 15 seconds, and live streaming on video sites like YouTube is limited to events. Meerkat, however, made it easy for anyone to stream anything, from anywhere, for any length of time, and finally provides a scratch for the online community’s voyeuristic itch.
Despite all its success, the app’s road hasn’t been without its bumps. Twitter, the piggy whose back Meerkat has been riding to its early success, acquired a similar service called Periscope not long after Meerkat’s launch, and proceeded to block some of Meerkat’s features, such as seeing the number of followers are currently using the app. This bump has turned out to be just that, and the little app that could (stream your entire life 24/7) is still rapidly growing in popularity. In fact, Rubin and his team recently raised in excess of $14 million in funding to build an even greater app.
As TechCrunch pointed out, Meerkat is for from being first to venture into the live streaming space. What makes Meerkat different though is its potential to reach the mass-market, helping the change of media ownership into the hands average Joe and Jane, and thereby forever changing the way we document our lives, and the world.