Last week Twitter launched Periscope, their response to Meerkat. Haven’t heard of Meerkat? You wouldn’t be the first. It was only launched a few weeks ago, but it has already taken the social world by storm. Meerkat and Periscope are part of a new company of apps that tackle the problem that so many people have: ‘I want people to see what I’m doing and I want them to see what I’m doing now’. They are both ‘live-streaming’ apps which allow you to broadcast to your followers (for now both are Twitter only) a live video of yourself with your smartphone.
“So?” I hear you say “what’s the point of that? Yet another way for egotistical megalomaniacs to show off to the world something that no one else wants to hear.”
I get that, I really do. A lot of people consider social media to simply be an exercise in hubris and as platforms to show off what they had for breakfast. It’s gotten to a point where people complain about people’s fake lives on Facebook and fear for the mental health of others being bombarded with the ‘perfect life’.
So why would we want another social network for people to broadcast on?
Well, it’s going to be a bit different than that.
Firstly, you can’t really fake live video. It’s not possible to airbrush that pimple or crop out the douchebag who was hitting on you and your friends all night. What you see is, what you get.
Secondly, live-video is the dream for many people. For years, we were constrained by technical limitations and data limitations. These made it impossible to shoot and upload live video and especially for a whole group of people to watch. Whilst we have had live-video options on computers, Google Live Hangouts and GoToMeeting allow you to broadcast live to thousands, if not millions, of people at once, they’ve always been constrained to an actual computer and an internet connection. In the last few years, the camera technology in smartphones has improved so much that not only is live-video a possibility but it also looks pretty damn good. In conjunction with the improved camera tech we have also seen mobile/cell carriers relax the idea of data caps. The amount of data it takes to stream live video is quite high (about 3.5Mb/s) and Edge and 3G networks do not support something as data-heavy as live video. However, with the rollout of LTE/4G technology it is now much easier for carriers to deal with live video without having their entire network crash.
So, how will we use live video? Jimmy Fallon, the host of TV’s Late Night, has already used Meerkat to broadcast rehearsals of his show and countless other celebrities have joined the live-video bandwagon. But the biggest impact where we should see live video is in citizen journalism.
Citizen journalism is a phrase that some either love or hate. There are fantastic instances of citizen journalists who have broken incredible stories and truly contributed to the idea of a free and open press. However, we have also seen how unaccountable amateurs can wildly persecute and blame innocent people. Yet, Meerkat and Perescope are going to change citizen journalism. When British soldier Lee Rigby was murdered by two Islamic extremists in front of dozens of horrified people it was an old woman who did the bravest (or most foolish?) thing of all, she got out her mobile phone and started recording them. The murderers then used that as their gateway to tell the world what they did. They began to monologue about the destruction of Islamic lands by the British army and other reasons to justify the murder. The user then uploaded and shared it with the world. However, there was a delay of a few minutes, crucial minutes, between the recording and the distribution of that footage. Imagine if the attacker had stolen the phone before it could have been uploaded? Or if there were no other witnesses? When it comes to citizen journalism and documenting crimes in progress, live-video is a true game changer. A man stumbles upon a mugging and quickly whips out Periscope. He’s recorded the crime in progress and, if he’s lucky, the attacker’s face. The attacker can no longer hide under an excuse of mistaken identity because the video is available for all to see, uploaded to a cloud server halfway across the world. With phones and data plans now cheaper than ever Periscope and Meerkat offer people a chance to document the abuses of power, intimidation and attacks that go unreported.
Perhaps most people will use Periscope and Meerkat as a tool to boost their own egos….but for every person who does…is another person using it to change their world.