Meerkat, the media darling of the moment, quickly spun up a great first version livestream video app, but can it soar after being kicked out of Twitter’s nest?
This month, Livestream Video (yes, that’s a thing) hit mainstream. Everyone from Jimmy Fallon to the Miami Dolphins is broadcasting a window into their world. In the past few days I’ve been front row at a South By Southwest concert; on a photoshoot in Colorado; and with Shaq just rolling through Hollywood. The Meerkat App can start a livestream video within two seconds - just two taps from my iPhone 6 - this is impressive.
How did this happen so fast? According to legend, team Yevvo quickly released the Meerkat app out into the wild just in time for SXSW and what soon followed was a narcissistic all-you-can-stream frenzy; growing to over 120,000 users in less than two weeks. Luck is timing uncontrollable events and often the well-timed product catches a wave which was building long before its arrival. At the moment, Meerkat is about to drop in on a big one.
And We’re Live In Two!
Anyone can broadcast out livestream TV to thousands - okay, for me it’s tens - of people with two-taps, and be up in 2 seconds. And it’s free! It’s incredible how blasé we’ve all become; extraordinary is the new normal. Last week I “Meerkated” (yeah, by the time you’ve read this, it’s already a verb, embrace the insanity) my late day run through trails in the Presidio. There was low connectivity and low light, and it totally worked; I had followers join me for over 20 minutes of my run; I wonder if any of them were watching from a treadmill in some dark, dank frozen part of the world - like NYC.
Keep It Clean, Keep It Classy
While Meerkat’s user interface, graphics, and overall appearance has that dressed down “I woke up like this” one-dot-oh feel, the real thoughtful design is in how the user interaction fundamentals force sharing to prevent the creep-factor; which is key for Meerkat's success. How, beyond the “swipe left” to report inappropriate streams, is this achieved?
Your Meerkat livestream broadcasts out to just your Twitter followers; want to prevent someone from viewing? just block them from Twitter and they’ll be cut-off from your streams.
Comments are not only public to the Meerkat stream but also posted in your Twitter feed; which keeps the “take off your shirt” requests to a minimum.
These are not the moves of livestream rookies; with fundamentals like these the Meerkat team has made a conscious decision to keep it safe and creeper free.
OPPORTUNITY FOR IMPROVEMENT
First of all, kudos to the team for a quick release of Meerkat into the wild. While Twitter was digesting Periscope, Meerkat trumped them both and hit the ground running. Can Meerkat use this first mover advantage to distance themselves from the herd?
It’s now time to grow users while keeping it authentic, safe, and fun. And by “safe” I mean uncreepy. The meerkat team should focus on the following:
Sharing is Caring (and Growing)
I should be able to share current and scheduled streams. This sort of happens with the retweet and like buttons which share streams in your Twitter Feed, but this should be expanded and more direct. Select the stream and share with: Meerkat, Twitter, Facebook, Message, Email. Again this should be two taps and simple, easy.
Just as Pandora posts your music stream of songs as Facebook activities, Meerkat should post livestream videos watched as Tweets. It would be quite obvious who’s spending too much time watching inappropriate Meerkats - for the pervs, this could get awkward.
Most people watch video with their devices horizontally oriented; in fact, most apps like WatchESPN and Netflix only play in horizontal mode. I mean, it’s odd to cut-off the frame when your device is held in the most comment orientation. It’s even worse if you want to save the video to YouTube, which looks like this: see what I mean?
Meerkat On Demand
Which brings me to another kind of sharing. While Meerkat doesn’t record your streams in their cloud, (I’ve accepted the fact that “servers” have been replaced by more friendly “clouds”) it does allow you to download the stream to your phone. Which you can then post to video sharing sites, since YouTube has 1 billion users, let’s focus on it. I’m not suggesting Meerkat change this, it’s smart to leverage YouTube infrastructure, rather than roll your own.
However, when I’ve just finished generating a stream, I should be given the option to save to device or directly post to YouTube - two taps, easy.
A deep link directly to the YouTube video can then be listed with my Meerkat Feed (more on that in a moment) and shared with my Twitter followers, so others can watch my streams later. This addresses a competitive disadvantage to that of Periscope and others while just making Meerkat more social.
There should be a basic, clean Meerkat Feed for accessing recorded meerkat streams, my comments, and comments from others. This would help wean the young Meerkat off of Twitter. Essentially, the “See profile on Twitter” is not enough and this should be moved in app and display just Meerkat related activity. I don’t need a Twitter experience within the Meerkat app, I can go to Twitter for that.
Everything I’ve said may soon be obsolete as the Meerkat story is yet to be written. If the livestream wave continues to grow Meerkat could be the next Snapchat or Twitter.
Back when YouTube wasn’t yet part of Google, content discovery was a mess. Meerkat should help answer “what do I want to watch?” and help me find content. Do I want to watch Adam Goldberg wining about everything in general but nothing in particular (which is awesome BTW) or take in the sights and sounds of a cafe in Tangier? With geotags, hashtags, and just tags content will be better organized and with actual search, collaborative filters, and recommendations, content will be more discoverable.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Why is Twitter so afraid of a little Meerkat? (Two weeks ago, Twitter choked off Meerkat’s ability to ramp up new users with a list of their Twitter followers.) They understand the enormous potential of livestream video and see an aspirin for their member engagement headache. Livestream video could be the Reality TV of the future. Forget the cable and content owner wars, livestream video could steal viewers away from them both. Last week I watched 30 minutes of a live concert on my Apple TV, from a Meerkat stream; 30 minutes I was not watching Netflix, HBO, Hulu, or ESPN.
In the livestream race, Meerkat has taken the early lead, with a product built by one person in eight weeks. It’s a solid first version but their success depends on how fast they can iterate. How will they respond to their members? to other livestream apps? to Twitter? For this revolution is happening and it will not be televised, but it will be livestreamed.
Update 26 MAR 2015
I know this is the “way too early” review of Meerkat so blame it on my OCD, but I have to mention the tiny usability details making me itch. By no means are these priority (more for the backlog / parking lot) so call me Captain Obvious as I list a few below, if little details bore rather than calm you just skip to the next blog:
The “search” magnifying glass to find people is not search; it’s more like an “add” since the username must be exact
Stream comment text is often cut-off
It’s almost impossible to read previous stream comments as the scroll is snapped to the top with every new comment
Stream tag at the top is cut-off, either limit it or allow me to tap to read
Stream comments often cover the video, allow me to slide them down or limit to just two rows
Number of followers watching also covers the video. Similar to Facebook likes, hyperlink the “# watching” which when tapped opens the list
The flag is confusing; does this report the stream or the user or both? will it remove the stream from your list?
The unfollow flow is not obvious and should be from the stream.
The “follow me” link is cool, but it should be device aware and open in app when available
That was cathartic, much better now.