When you build on a platform that doesn’t belong to you, you could end up getting steamrolled by the original owner. This is exactly what has happened to Meerkat and Twitter. Meerkat, a live streaming app, piggybacked on the social media giant for communication, identity and distribution. Last night, however, Twitter launched Periscope, which is basically a competing app that offers even more and this sparked the end of Meerkat. Buzzfeed immediately reported on this issue.
Twitter is cutting off Meerkat’s ability to port people’s social networks over from Twitter to its own service — the so-called social graph. That means when new users come on board, they will no longer be automatically connected to the other people they are already following on Twitter.
Ben Rubin, the founder of Meerkat, has stated that this is indeed a blow, but it does not signal the end of Meerkat. Indeed, he believes the product, the team and the vision are here to stay. It will be interesting to see how this will pan out.
What Was “Cut Off”?
In the past, signing up with Meerkat would be done through a Twitter account. Automatically, all Twitter followers would also become Meerkat followers. Hence, if a new stream would be started, users would receive an alert and they could use the stream on their Meerkat app. Now, however, that has to be done manually instead.
When you join Meerkat today, you will only be able to build a social graph by manually choosing the users to follow. This is quite hard to do because the app does not come with a user search. Hence, it will be far more difficult to recreate the interest graph from Twitter. They will also be informed of fewer streams and they should see a decline in viewers, too. Hence, it will be incredibly difficult for Meerkat to stay alive, particularly now that Periscope is floating about.
At the same time, however, those who were already with Meerkat will not lose their followers. There is no retroactive action, in other words. All comments will continue to get syndicated on Twitter, and all stream links will continue to be auto-tweeted.
It’s All About Politics
Facebook has used a same tactic several times in the past, for instance, through MessageMe and Voxer. Facebook stated that these apps would basically steal a friend list without giving any type of return. Although this was the official line, most people believed that the real issue was that they competed with Facebook Messenger.
Platforms always try to build a system that allows people to use their service. However, by the time they have a valuable social graph, they don’t need the work of the original platform anymore. This is not a problem if the app delivers something that a social media network doesn’t offer. However, when it gets too close for comfort, something will have to give.
There is a policy on Twitter that specifically states that app developers are not allowed to replicate an experience that is offered by Twitter itself. Of course, when Meerkat first started to offer their service, it was not public knowledge that Twitter had acquired Periscope. Hence, they aren’t really breaking any rules.
Whats Next for Meerkat?
Meerkat continues to be hopeful, however, and Ben Rubin has already explained what Meerkat and its parent, Life on Air, from Israel, intend to do next.
We are working on creative ways to help new users to build a graph. It’s true that it will take us more time in the very immediate future to help new users (as of last night) build a community inside Meerkat but some solutions will be available soon.
Twitter gave Meerkat a fantastic platform. At the same time, however, Rubin believed that it could have been better in terms of the interest graph. Hence, there is now an opportunity to make things even better. One suggestion, for instance, is to create “HomeMy,” which will use
telephone numbers for identity rather than Twitter contacts. Nobody is able to take telephone contacts from them. So, where Meerkat currently asks for a Twitter account to sign in, they could simply change this to a telephone number, whereby it adds telephone contacts.
At the same time, they could continue auto-tweets and syndication of comments through Twitter. Effectively, this means users could choose whether or not to use Twitter. Those who aren’t active on the platform could then use a different web area to post content. Additionally, they could add a Find Friends option, although this could be difficult as it could once again be taken over by Twitter if they felt like it.
Rubin feels positive about the future of Meerkat. The current functions are unchanged, which means those who are already Meerkat users can continue as they were. What they hope, however, is to create something that is bigger and better.
Meanwhile, Twitter has stated that Periscope’s video would be driving the future of Twitter. This means that they are really serious about live streaming and that, in turn, means that we should all be looking at it. It also means that other social media platforms are likely to start doing the same, so all eyes should be on Facebook. If that is the case, then perhaps Facebook will buy Meerkat, although they could also go to different types of apps, such as Upclose by Betawork, or Hang W/. Facebook has never really focused on providing real-time content, mainly because their News Feed should already offer this, albeit with a slight delay. On the other hand, Facebook is always one for innovation so all of this could still change.
Whatever the case may be, Meerkat isn’t finished yet. It is easy enough to build a new functionality, after all. What is more difficult, however, is to build a new community. This has been demonstrated when Slingshot and Poke, two Facebook ventures, failed spectacularly. However, Meerkat already has the necessary social graphs and, although it has been officially cut off by Twitter, it continues to be incredibly active.