Social video networks – crossing the chasm?

Live video streaming with mobile Internet devices, which seems to have come out of nowhere, has been taking the Internet by storm.  The two popular apps, Meerkat and Periscope, are pushing “interactive social video networking” across the chasm, using Geoffrey Moore’s technology adoption model.  In a recent IT World Canada article, Shane Schick suggested some experiments that CIOs could do (assuming, of course, they have iPhones and Twitter) to try out the new apps.

Meerkat and Periscope currently depend on having a Twitter account.  They have only been available for a couple of months, but are already showing signs of taking Twitter (and perhaps the Internet in general) to a new stage of growth.

There was a time (not that long ago) when it was odd to see a person talking (presumably on a phone!) while walking down the street.  Now, people everywhere can broadcast live action video of anything and everything – sunsets, restaurants, sports, and even what’s in their fridges.  The big question is whether this can be transformed into useful functionality for businesses and, if so, how quickly.

Many reviews and commentaries have been published, typically within a week or two of Meerkat’s initial availability.  A somewhat random sample (with no opinion of the contents on my part) includes:

The potential perils of live streaming are also being identified quite quickly.  For example, talks about the “scary possibilities” if young or vulnerable people get “hooked” on these apps.

What is social video networking?

Social video networks are the live video analogue of the text-based social networks we are now very familiar with.

In general, video-based systems can have varying characteristics and features, including:

  • Live (realtime) streaming without recording vs. live with recording vs. pre-recorded transfer;
  • Video only vs. video + sound vs. multimedia (video, sound and related text/data);
  • High, medium or low quality video;
  • Guaranteed vs. best efforts delivery;
  • Individual (consumer) vs. commercial/government content;
  • One-way vs. two-way interaction;
  • On-demand (pull) vs. distributed (push) vs. scheduled;
  • Point to point (private person to person) vs. multipoint (person to a specified group) vs. broadcast (person to anyone/public)

The service currently offered, by both Meerkat and Periscope, is personal live video streaming, with best efforts delivery, two-way interaction, and point-to-multipoint distribution.  Sound and video are packaged with metadata (such as name, session title, number of watchers, and location) and a reverse channel (i.e., from the watcher to the source) is achieved using Twitter.

Meerkat and Periscope also use Twitter features for managing identities, access and groups.  For me, one of the interesting innovations is using Twitter as an e-identity platform.   Will this combination of live streaming combined with tweets become a “killer app” for Twitter?

There are other products in the same market.  For some examples, see livestream, Tarsii, Veetle, Uvlog, and no doubt there are others.  One question for the CIO is whether Twitter is an acceptable basis for a business application or whether other products should be explored.

In short, basic social video networking is the managed delivery of personal realtime video combined with a viewer back channel.  There is, however, no shortage of suggestions for future enhancements and improvements to the current products!

Why are Meerkat and Periscope useful?

In my opinion, both Meerkat and Periscope are still in experimental trial mode for most people, and are just starting to be noticed by business.  It’s kind of fascinating (and almost addictive) to watch people walking down the street in all corners of the world.  I enjoyed seeing the beaches in Sydney and Waikiki (which is great travel advertising)!  It’s almost like having Google Street View in realtime.

Some people are also doing “behind the scenes” broadcasts – I recently followed a friend while she was shopping at the local liquor store.  This should be a consideration for corporate marketing people – it is necessary to keep track of this type of exposure?

Another business-oriented example is the site “SwedishFoodTV” from Stockholm which offers an interesting view of a restaurant kitchen.  When I last checked, there were over 300 people watching their broadcast (on Meerkat) and asking questions.  Madonna is the popularity leader on Meerkat – they have a leaderboard list.

But the fascination with live streaming can wear off pretty quickly, and the commercial value of casual broadcasting is definitely suspect (Would I pay to see a streetview? Will I agree to ads superimposed on the videos?).  Some are predicting the popularity may wane quickly.

It’s always fun to try something new but would you watch a corporate stream frequently and for long periods of time?  How long will phone batteries last while you are video streaming or watching, and how much will watching cost on your data plan?

Performance and quality of service can also be a big question – I had frequent stream disconnects while surfing various broadcasters a few days ago.  Corporate users will need to be careful that poor quality of service doesn’t spoil the experience.

Some of the more obvious non-personal uses include:

  • Live events and entertainment – birthdays, graduations, marriages, openings, non-professional sports, etc.; this may stimulate growth in the number of Twitter followers;
  • Interviews and dialogues – answering questions via Tweets from a remote audience;
  • Tours – visual tours of a house for sale; virtual tourist guides; advertising a booth at an exhibition (I saw one for a bakery in England);
  • Tutorials – live tutorials for products; focus groups; how-to’s; virtual classrooms; group mentoring.

Many current uses (and active users) will simply be a flash in the pan, while other uses will no doubt prove valuable and/or compelling.  What your parents are seeing while on their Mediterranean cruise could indeed be highly entertaining for a short time.  Remote access to “lunch & learn” sessions at your office may be much more beneficial.

Of course, there are obvious mis-uses as well, such as broadcasting of copyrighted events (e.g., sports, music, and television) and adult content.  Privacy issues are certainly likely to arise if people are included without permission.  It will be interesting to see how the terms of service, copyrights and privacy will be enforced, especially on a multinational basis.

To quote the Periscope folks:

“Just over a year ago, we became fascinated by the idea of discovering the world through someone else’s eyes. What if you could see through the eyes of a protester in Ukraine? Or watch the sunrise from a hot air balloon in Cappadocia? It may sound crazy, but we wanted to build the closest thing to teleportation. While there are many ways to discover events and places, we realized there is no better way to experience a place right now than through live video. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but live video can take you someplace and show you around.”

What will end up being feasible, practical and useful, especially over the longer term, is yet to be seen.

The Rules of Meerkat

This is what Meerkat states as being its basic rules:

  • Everything that happens on Meerkat happens on Twitter;
  • Streams will be pushed to followers in real time via push notifications;
  • Everything is live, no reruns;
  • Watchers can re-stream any stream to their followers in real time;
  • Scheduled streams will be distributed in the community by subscribers;
  • Your own streams can be kept locally on your phone;
  • Everyone can watch on the web;
  • Be kind.

Periscope’s rules may be slightly different, but they would generally be equivalent.

Meerkat has also documented Terms of Service on its website.  The following extract indicates that you may NOT post content that:

  • Impersonates another person or entity in a manner that does or is intended to mislead, confuse, or deceive others;
  • Violates the rights of a third party, including copyright, trademark, privacy, and publicity rights;
  • Is a direct and specific threat of violence to others;
  • Is furtherance of illegal activities; or
  • Is harassing, abusive, or constitutes spam.

Will social video networks scale?

Both Meerkat and Periscope have been successfully launched and are growing quickly.  People may be arguing over the details of how they work, but there is no dispute over the concept of social video networking.

However, let’s imagine millions of active broadcasters and many millions of interested viewers, at all times of day and anywhere in the world.

Here’s some thoughts on what’s critical to success and what might go wrong with social video networks:

  • Internet and mobile data usage (and hence costs to the broadcaster) could increase significantly and eventually the service providers and broadcasters will need to find ways to profit;
  • Reverse channel messages are key to engagement, but not everyone wants to use Twitter (e.g., text messaging may need to be integrated);
  • The sheer volume of tweets would rapidly get overwhelming without a moderator or a limiting feature;
  • A proliferation of competing services with slightly different features could prove to be confusing and even detrimental (i.e., inter-app interoperability would be desirable, much as for email, voice and text messaging);
  • Recording and re-play of content would be needed for many business applications to be useful (even if only for records management purposes);
  • More sophisticated search and discovery capabilities will be needed (e.g., put the locations of active broadcasters on a map);
  • Incentives (like the Meerkat leaderboard) will need to be more sophisticated (and perhaps could be used to trigger some form of payment); and
  • Notifications will need to be fine-grained if people are going to use them to follow larger numbers of broadcasters.

I’m sure there are lots of other questions to be answered as social video networking moves towards mainstream use.  For now, as Shane Schick recommended, trial use to gain familiarity is recommended – this service is moving quickly to the mainstream.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Don Sheppard
Don Sheppard
I'm a IT management consultant. I began my career in railways and banks after which I took up the consulting challenge! I try to keep in touch with a lot of different I&IT topics but I'm usually working in areas that involve service management and procurement. I'm into developing ISO standards, current in the area of cloud computing (ISO JTC1/SC38). I'm also starting to get more interested in networking history, so I guess I'm starting to look backwards as well as forwards! My homepage is but I am found more here.

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