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Meerkat vs Periscope

Reading Lankshear & Knobel's reflections on online social networking was remarkably well timed this week. It seems like every month you hear about a new social media website or application, and lately Periscope has come up in multiple conversations. Periscope is a live video streaming app that is linked to your Twitter account, so I decided to download the app and see what it was all about. I will preface by saying I have almost entirely skipped the popularly used social media applications like Snapchat and Vine. I really only use Facebook for staying in touch with family and friends, and I use Twitter and LinkedIn professionally. I do, however, frequently use Twitch, a live game streaming site and application. I was surprised to see that in Periscope, video streams are organized by geographic location. Streamers give their channel a title, and can show a wide variety of activities. Some video streams were focused on a conversation with the streamer, and others featured environmental scenes.

In one of the first streams I joined, hosts from an advertising/marketing background were hosting a conversation about Periscope and making comparisons to a competing application, Meerkat. While Periscope is owned by Twitter, Meerkat and Facebook announced a new partnership this week. Both applications can easily be linked to your Twitter account. One of the streamers made an astute observation that how a partnership with Facebook signified that the application, and live stream video networks in general, are moving into the mainstream of the general population. The hosts also discussed the interactive features of the applications and outlined some limitations and related concerns. For example, the geo tagging of streams in Periscope provided an eerily specific location for the stream and there was some conversation about potential safety issues. I can see why this would be of concern as I did also see several minors with live stream channels and experienced what I would consider to be inappropriate conversations with viewers. Another concern discussed was the use of this kind of an application during live sports games, concerts, and other ticketed events. Just after their stream ended, I watched Disney's World of Color show on another stream so I can see how this might be debated or banned in venues with paid entry.

Discussion of the interface design of both Periscope and Meerkat revealed something to be desired. Both applications were pretty basic. Outside of a simple "like" function of applying hearts by tapping the screen, Periscope lacked any other features besides a chat box to type in and a list of viewers. In addition, the inability to go back and read the questions asked by viewers after they had only briefly appeared in front of the video stream, as well as the inability for the streamers to type into the chat feature were particularly of note. While Meerkat has accounted for these features and has also avoided the creepiness of an incredibly accurate GPS location, the streams seemed quite random and are not organized in an intuitive way. One feature did stand out for Meerkat; viewers could make a "cameo" and share their own live video stream for 60 seconds or less before it would switch back to the original host.

What came to mind for me in looking at these applications was how well designed the interface was for Twitch in regards to these features. In Twitch, a separate chat window allows for a full record of the ongoing conversation by both viewers and streamers allowing for a high level of engagement between all parties. Channel specific emotes and links can also be posted in chat, accompanied by the ability to tag someone in chat using the @ symbol. Streams are organized by game or interest, and include a wide variety of activities including gaming, skateboarding, leatherworking, arts & crafts, and exersize. One well known streamer, Swifty, has a stream with multiple cameras positioned around his house, referred to as "Swifty's Gaming House". He frequently has other streamers over for playing games and on occasion will stream activities on-the-go from a visit to Universal Studios or a night out.

Gamers have already solved many of these challenges when it comes to live streaming video; Twitch has been around since 2011. So, why is it that we are hearing so much about Periscope and Meerkat lately, and what makes them different? For one thing, both applications are designed to be connected with the existing social media accounts of viewers from the start. Using the applications becomes easier to become invested in, and when linked to established accounts where relevant connections and interests can be automatically added, a user centric, customized experience is ensured. It was also interesting to see that on both platforms, I encountered "training" streams for businesses, including Younique, a makeup sales company, as well as service organizations like Uber. The potential for use of these platforms for training could be another big factor in the buzz surrounding them.

Gamers again prove to be ahead of the curve in finding new ways to engage, collaborate, and share information and ideas through new media. Now that live stream video services are becoming more mainstream, I am excited to see what the gaming community comes up with. It promises to push the boundaries of what is widely acknowledged and practiced, and challenge the status quo.

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