Despite only launching a matter of weeks ago, live-streaming app Meerkat is already kind of a big deal; it has garnered over 180,000 active, passionate users since it hit the App Store at the start of the month. The app enables users to stream video footage directly via Twitter, although Twitter is currently working on its own equivalent called Periscope, which goes some way towards explaining why it has recently blocked Meerkat from accessing its user data. Meerkat has responded by launching a new set of features, including internal user search and a news feed.
At SXSW, co-founder Ben Rubin openly acknowledged that Meerkat would not exist without Twitter. He also took the opportunity to clarify that users will soon be able to retain ownership of their footage, post-broadcast: “The idea behind it is not to cater to ephemerality… We want to make sure that you control the content after your post it.”
Meerkat achieved considerable penetration at SXSW, even if that wasn’t the name of the game for Rubin. While household names like McDonald’s struggled to capture people’s lasting attention, people were ‘Meerkatting’ all aspects of their festival experience, from attending seminars to waiting in line for the bathroom. “It’s happening because the community is promoting it,” says Rubin. “The community is pushing us forward.”
There is a fine tradition of future hits getting their big break at SXSW; Twitter caused quite a stir back in 2007, as did Foursquare. “The breakout hits of SXSW all have a characteristic that major corporations don’t,” writes Sarah Buhr at TechCrunch. “They are organically shared by a community of social media-savvy early adopters.”
Rubin is keen for Meerkat’s user base to continue growing, and he is fully aware that the very novelty of the app is somewhat hazardous. “Boredom can kill the platform,” he told the Wall Street Journal earlier this month. “There is a danger that people will get addicted to the fact that they can press a button and that people watch them rather than understanding that there is a meaningful shared experience to create. In order to mitigate this risk, which can be the downfall of every live-stream platform, we need to convey a strong message to the community that they need to think before they go live.”