Noah J Nelson on Thursday, Mar. 26th
Will the news ever be the same again?
A month into the buzz cycle on the hot mobile streaming video app Meerkat a new challenger has appeared. Periscope, which was acquired by Twitter earlier this year has almost everything Meerkat is not: possessed of a beautiful UI, capable of being replayed, and on a much tighter feedback loop.
What neither of these apps are is ready for prime time, at least from a news perspective.
While I was putting my first impression notes together on the Meerkat vs. Periscope debate—which is what every tech/media blogger is doing today—a huge fire broke out on 2nd Ave. in New York City. The first I saw of it was a tweet by Scott Westerfeld, the YA science fiction author, who had a photo in his feed. Instantly I wanted to know if anyone was running Meerkat/Periscope feeds.
The two places where it was next to impossible to figure that out? Meerkat and Periscope. Inside both apps the emphasis is on whatever random user is currently posting. In this the apps are like the early days of social media, however these aren’t the early days of social media anymore. If either of these apps want to become an integral part of the media landscape we’re going to need some way to get to the stuff that matters without searching through Twitter to get to the meat.
I was able to find a couple of feeds through Periscope, by sheer luck, in the wide feed. Those broke down quickly. Searching Twitter with the term “2nd Ave.” I was able to bring up a feed by Fusion’s Tim Pool, aka @Timcast, who was walking to the scene of the fire.
I started watching Pool on the desktop client for Periscope—also better that Meerkat—and then pulled up his profile on the app. After adding him: nothing. His live feed didn’t populate the discovery tab in Periscope, nor was it possible to reach his life feed via his profile page. Instead I had to jump back to my Twitter client and use the link he had sent out. That got me to the feed
The feed was intermittent at best, and that’s not the app’s fault, most likely. Instead that has everything—almost certainly—with the strength of the mobile Internet infrastructure in NYC. Which means that we’re basically at the mercy of infrastructure for live streaming of news… and we’re also at the mercy of authorities who can block signals during times of civil unrest. There’s some serious conversations about Net Neutrality, Peer to Peer networks, and when—if ever—it’s okay for the government to shut down the mobile internet that we need to have, like, yesterday.
Still: this is about the apps. The Discovery SUCKS, and it needs to be addressed ASAP. Meerkat has a first mover advantage, but Periscope is blowing them out of the water on the core functions: replay is solid, and I’ve seen all of my attempts to put a feed out get archived. The UI is slicker in Periscope, although it would be great to be able to swipe away from the comments and get to a pure video feed.
What seems to really be missing is the ability to share a feed with others when you are not the person generating the feed. To share you have to go out into Twitter and share the link. I can understand WHY that is there: it puts the control into the broadcaster’s hands. It’s kind of a kludge, however, because any feed that has a Twitter link gets put into the global feed and any Rando Calrissian can jump in. That’s disconcerting, actually.
I could stand to see both the “private” broadcasting options that sends invites to select followers and a fully public, let anyone share what you are doing option do very well. The public option that exists right now just seems strange, unsatisfying, and inefficient for breaking news. And let’s be honest here: it’s breaking news that’s going to make or break these apps, just like the Hudson River landing really made Twitter back in the day.
If I was the kids at Meerkat I’d be iterating HARD on Discovery and getting the feedback loop fixed right now. The 30-30 second delay that Meerkat has is death when Periscope is running in what appears to be realtime. Meerkat just got a chunk of cash, so now’s the time to get to it.
With all that said, here’s what really matters: I hope the NYC Firefighters who leapt into that mess come out okay and that the casualty numbers are miraculously low.