Meerkat

Meerkat & YikYak: The Internet Here & Now

on Wednesday, Mar. 11th

If you’ve gone around the sun enough times here on the Internet you can remember the days when you’d hear about the next new hotness while you were still figuring out how to use the app du jour.

I had a similar experience this week while I was fooling around with Meerkat this week. That app is so hot right now. The idea of an app dedicated to live video streaming directly onto Twitter seems to be one whose time has come. Wireless networks are robust enough to handle the video bandwidth and phones have the battery life to sustain streaming for long enough that playing around doesn’t mean you’re going to be phone-less within minutes.

Just because you can stream live video from a phone doesn’t mean that it’s all that interesting to do so, however. I’ve tuned into a few streams that were super banal and I’m guilty of setting up one or two of them myself.

Where it gets interesting, however, is the integration with Twitter. (Which might be a liability for Meerkat in the long run, but let’s hold that thought for a moment.) Everything that happens in Meerkat happens on Twitter. Start a stream and the link goes out over your feed. Make a comment on someone’s stream and it shows up as an @reply in their mentions and on your feed. Ephemeral as it is—you can try and save your own stream to your camera roll, but that works only part of the time—it is an expressly public forum.

The outgoing Meerkat feed lets you know who is watching, and more than once as I was experimenting with it I saw some familiar Twitter faces pop up on screen. Knowing that my Twitter friends were watching the feed shifted me from “what am I doing” mode to the “talk to my buddies” setting. In that moment I finally “got” what it was like to be a Twitch live-streamer. Here were people I knew sending me Tweets that commented on my on-screen musings. (The first time this happened I was debating canceling cable, thanks to the HBO Now announcement.)

Instead of feeling self-conscious and narcissistic, I found myself talking to my friends. Simple as that. Here was a use case that I could understand as being worthwhile for both the streamer and the audience.

Earlier experiments I conducted with Meerkat involved sneaking around a museum with the stream running, trying to narrate what I was looking at without being completely obvious. I have no idea how that went over. What I could start to imagine, however, was a world where the fierce immediacy of Twitter became translated into video form. Apparently the folks at Twitter have seen that future as well, so they bought an app called Periscope last month which is one of Meerkat’s competitors. Which means that the whole live-streaming video direct to Twitter thing is going to get messy, messy, messy.

I promised you more than one app a few paragraphs ago, however, and I aim to deliver.

After tuning into a friend’s Meerkat stream he pinged me on Facebook to apologize for how messy his kitchen was. (Let that serve as a reminder of how we actually live: jumping from platform to platform the way chimps swing through trees.) While we were daydreaming up use cases for Meerkat—he sees it this tech revolutionizing sports event coverage—he told me about YikYak.

Now YikYak has been around for a while, and never quite had its Meerkat moment. I was vaguely aware of its existence, the way you might be vague aware of Bango, TrollyNow, and ServId if you read TechCrunch now and then. YikYak was something I’d seen mentioned in passing without any explanation or context. (I just pulled those names out of thing air, and I figure there’s a 50/50 chance each of them is an actual thing.)

He broke down why he found YikYak interesting: it’s one of those anonymous local message board apps and he’s had fun comparing the posts in the part of New York where he works with the part where he lives. Night and day, he tells me.

So I signed up, and so far it’s more of a shrug for me. There’s a lot of posts from LA City College students, which is close enough to my neighborhood that it dominates the local stream. Today’s big topic is that LACC won’t allow vaping on campus anymore. Not exactly relevant to my interests.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I can’t imagine the value of anon local boards. The issue is just that finding the right anon local board is a pain in the ass. That’s true whether we’re talking about YikYak, Reddit, Craigslist or the jillion other anon boards. I keep thinking that some day someone is going to crack this particular puzzle, and it’s probably going to be thanks to a combination of good UI and even better search filters.

Still, that moment of learning about YikYak while talking about Meerkat brought back the old feelings of the social media boom for a few minutes. That and it got me thinking about how there’s still a long way to go in terms of infrastructure before the Internet is a real-time, location-savvy reflection of reality as we know it. There’s even farther to go for us to understand what that means, culturally.

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