Learning about the App
22 days ago I saw a post on Product Hunt, one of my favorite and most oft-visited sites on the web. It was about a new mobile app focused on ephemeral live streaming. In the past I have not been a fan of such services. It seemed like a mix of Qik and Snapchat, I figured I'd pass...
Then Megan Morrone used me as her subject on an episode of Tech News Tonight, demoing the new app. Again, the experience (seen primarily from a browser window, which distorted the stream) was not ideal and I figured it was just a silly new app. But then Mike Elgan started using it... and told me I should get on it. I must also note that he told me I should start a blog, which you're now reading. I don't know why I listen to this man, it's like he wants me to communicate with the outside world!
My first meerkat stream was on Friday, March 13 (8 days ago). It was entertaining, I had maybe 10 people watching at most, but those who watched knew me, knew TWiT and we were interacting. Finally I began to see the light. The communication right on top of the video, the Twitter integration and the ephemerality of it made for a fantastic experience. I've never really loved seeing/hearing myself recorded, so this medium began to make sense. I love talking to people, I just don't need these conversations recorded.
On that same Friday night, I watched a few awesome people on their meerkats, some interviews, some life streaming and some being super interactive. I decided, if I were to meerkat, I'd like to do all these things. Saturday morning was spent working on some other projects and then I got bored and sat at my desk. I turned on Meerkat for the first time in my apartment.
I walked to the TWiT studio, went grocery shopping and came back to my apartment to talk to the few people watching me. I garnered an audience. I've been able to trace this back to Pete Pachal's retweet of my post. Funny enough, he's a tech editor at Mashable. That attracted a lot of interesting folks into my room, including Pete Cashmore himself. I was in shock! I suddenly had the ear of this person I never thought I'd interact with in a million years. Anyways... I kept streaming, I ended up going for 8 hours straight. It was fantastic. I met more amazing people from all walks of life, and really enjoyed having so many conversations. I did it again the following day... but for 14 hours.
"Fancy" is most certainly an overstatement, especially when one considers where I work, but I started to think of make some of my Meerkats unique. I really wasn't focused on just sending out a message as many others were, I wanted the interaction. I loved clicking each little face in the app to discover who I was talking to and what they did (or what info they wanted to include in their Twitter bio). Friday I had "met" an awesome guy, who was very interactive in the chats and seemed like he'd be interesting to chat with for real. I called up Mitch via FaceTime on my iPad mini. I held the iPad up and we talked about the news, startups, tech, all kinds of subjects. On Saturday I had my brother & sister-in-law as guests. I held them up, and we had some very energetic and stimulating conversation. It was fun, and the audience made it so much more interesting than just us chatting on the phone. Some people would feel the need to "be on" or perform for an audience, but I knew they wouldn't be like that. The authenticity of the conversation was great, and I think the viewers knew it.
Another facet of the app is the gamification that comes from your magical Meerkat score. I call it magic because I'm really not sure how it works. From what I can tell it involves the amount of interaction (replies, favorites), the sustained viewer count and length of stream. Of course, I could be totally wrong. After streaming for so long on Saturday a week ago, I realized I was somewhat high on the list (in the low teens). I was up there with much more public people than myself, like Leo Laporte, Mike Elgan and Kevin Rose. The difference though, is that their Twitter Followers number in the hundreds of thousands if not millions. When I started, I had fewer than 400 followers. At first I figured it was their sprints vs. my endurance that allowed me to even compete... but then I tuned into some of their stuff. They weren't interacting, they were just streaming whilst doing other things. This was not sustainable for a medium like Meerkat. It's not just another Ustream. So I climbed. Until I was in the top 3. Then the top 2. That's where I remain, for now.
The leaderboard is fun, but should Meerkat take off, it will almost certainly be overrun with the likes of Bieber, Gaga, and whomever else tops twitters' lists.
I think it was during the first 8-hour stretch that somebody suggested I go for a full 24... I said no. Then the next day I decided to go for 12 (I went for 14). Then I decided on Tuesday to make it official that I'd do a 24 hour event from Friday 3/20 - Saturday 3/21. I thought it'd be fun. I intended to just sit in my apartment, maybe figure out something more exciting... But then David Grossblatt of Founder's Dojo offered to connect me to BottlesTonight, I said "sure... we'll figure it out" (attempting to blow past the idea). Little did I know a full plan was put into motion, involving a night out full of streaming. It was a crazy day:
Friday, March 20, 2015
- 10:00 AM - Streaming Begins from the TWiT Brick House
- 12:00 PM - Streaming tests with new stabilization rig
- 4:30 PM - Back to the apartment for some family interviews
- 5:00 PM - En Route to the Dojo, terrible connection, mainly audio in the car
- 6:30 PM - Arrival at Founder's Dojo, time to talk to some super interesting folks
- 9:45 PM - Skype chat with Owen JJ Stone (amazing person)
- 10:30 PM - Arrival at Temple NightClub
Saturday, March 21, 2015
- 1:30 AM - Return to the Emissary Med offices, next door to the Dojo
- 3:00 AM - Outing to 24 hr Subway (not a good idea)
- 6:00 AM - 30 min Nap, David & Meredith take control
- 6:40 AM - Back in action, time for some games
- 9:59 AM - 300 simultaneous viewers
- 10:00 AM - DONE
What I've Learned
It's all about engagement
The reason I've been successful on Meerkat is because I'm willing to put in the time and effort to not only speak to my viewers but wait for them to talk back. There's quite a delay between my saying something and the comments, that dead time wouldn't really be that hard to fill. But waiting for responses, really showing that you care what they're saying is super important. It is also an advantage of not having 400 people messaging at once. If I have 70 people, not everyone will be chatting and I'll be able to keep up conversations with a few of them.
Meerkat isn't one-way broadcasting, it's not meant to simply stream a video and have a chat for users to correspond with each other. Meerkat is far more focused on host-user communications.
Will Meerkat survive?
I think Meerkat is here to stay. They're well funded, they've got a brand that people find interesting, and a growing audience base. Sure, they've had their issues with Twitter, but the Twitter graph isn't the only way to get started... There's always the leader board. Overall though, so long as Meerkat is able to quickly fix the connection bugs, the crashing and add some moderation for hosts (definite need if more popular/important people are to embrace the platform) I think they'll be around for a while.
Below are the awesome people who helped make the Meerathon happen. I've given links to their twitter accounts. FOLLOW THEM.