Whats it like to actually use 2015s breakout app? Meerkat is a weird name, even for an app. The Google results still throw up ads for comparethemarket.com and carnivoran species belonging to the mongoose family, along with bluffers guides for marketers. Though labelled ‘the app that took over SXSW‘, Meerkat still feels like an insider’s secret, something in beta which can only be accessed by the tech elite.
But Meerkat is accessible to anyone right now, on iPads and iPhones. And what’s more, it’s easy to use: experimenting with broadcasting the #NYUDubAccelerate competition last Friday, I was able to instantly set up a live stream of Eamon Leonard‘s speech and tweet it to Dublin Globes followers.
It feels like Meerkat was made to be used in stressful or busy situations when the user’s mind is on other things. Tweets are superimposed over the video, streamlining interactions into one place. The interface is minimalist and simple: stream or schedule a stream, or look over the leaderboard of most-followed streams worldwide. Its simple and fun to use.
But there have been hiccups along the way. Right around the time they hit 100,000 users, Twitter banned Meerkat and acquired a similar service, Periscope. Though creator Ben Rubin has said they never intended to rely on Twitter in the first place, chances are that most early adapters will be on Twitter already, and the social networks emphasis on real time news was Meerkat’s perfect match. How they’ll recover remains to be seen. And then there was that flaw which let anyone easily hijack other peoples streams, which they are currently working to fix as more and more users flock to the app.
The Big Question: what does Meerkat mean for social media?
It means that were all YouTubers now. Many will already be aware of lifestreamings commercialised afterlife on YouTube, and the rise of those oversharing, deeply boring vloggers. YouTube has made entertainment out of the trivial, and Meerkat lowers the barrier to entry further.
In doing so, however, it makes video more accessible, righting the wrongs of Google Hangouts and more obscure services like Chatroulette and Airtime. Dont see this as a bad thing: you dont have to follow every boring person on Twitter, nor do you have to click into every Meerkat stream. Its a useful reminder that your phone is a broadcasting tool, and what will be really interesting, if Meerkat takes off, is how politicians, musicians and other performers duly respond. Will there be laws banning Meerkat from cinemas, theatres, festivals and college lectures? Will we be permitted to hijack private events via Twitter?
Its kind of amazing that its taken this long for something like Meerkat to be created. Fingers crossed it hangs around: love or hate the app, it’s hard not to respect a company that refuses to follow anyone on Twitter except Drake.