Twitter pecks at video-streaming app Meerkat

If anything is trending this week it’s that Austin, Texas is the place to be, and that Meerkat is/was (to be determined) the thing to be on.

Infiltrating Austin is the 22nd Annual South by Southwest Conference & Festival (SXSW). The weeklong event celebrates creativity and advancement in the fields of music, film, and interactive technology, with the goal of bringing a diverse group of “creative, innovative, and inspiring” people together to exchange and showcase ideas. While music and film are appreciated, communication minded professionals should really heed the Interactive Conference.

Each year SXSW Interactive brings together “cutting-edge technologies and digital creativity” by acting as a venue mecca for hosting sessions, tradeshows, and expos revolving around branding and marketing, global policy, social media, entrepreneurship, and of course technology.

Out of all that SXSW has to offer, this year’s most popular topic at the conference involves the ruffled feathers between the widely known social media platform, Twitter, and an up-and-coming video-sharing platform, Meerkat.

For those unfamiliar with Meerkat, the start up is a social network that allows for posting and sharing of live-stream video. The conflict arises out of the foundational intertwine in which Meerkat was built. Founder Ben Rubin, launched the app through Twitter’s application programming interface (API) — API’s are “programming language[s] that allow two different applications to communicate, or interface, with each other”. Using Twitter’s API, Meerkat was allowed access to Twitter’s social graph or “network of friends”, making it easy for Meerkat users to find one another and connect. So for example, when a Meerkat user started a live stream, the app pushed a notification to all of the user’s Twitter friends who also have the Meerkat app.

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However, while at SXSW himself, Meerkat founder, Ben Rubin got the call that Twitter was cutting Meerkat off from its social graph within a mere two hours.

Without access to the social graph Meerkat will no longer be able to automatically notify a Meerkat user’s Twitter followers that a live stream has been started. In addition, without accessibility of the graph, Meerkat will also have to ask people to build their own social networks from scratch inside the app instead of using the network that the user already maintained on Twitter.

The call to cut Meerkat off came just five days after Twitter announced its acquisition of Periscope, a very similar live video sharing app. Some claim that the move by Twitter is acknowledgement of just how successful Meerkat is, and could grow to be – success that would hinder the competitiveness of their own app.

“I get it that when you own the house, you own the rules,” Rubin says. “You can say, I’m about to launch my own app, and I don’t want you to have the graph. But I think the two hours was a little aggressive and not working toward building a community.”

A community, that on the surface Twitter claims to support. Last fall, the company launched “Flock”, a worldwide tour to promote more app develop for the platform via it’s own developer suite, “Fabric”. While touring, the company also announced “Hatch”, their first worldwide startup contest. In a press release, director of product for Fabric, says, “We believe the next great app can come from anywhere so we are going everywhere we can to help you learn how to use Fabric to build great apps.”

“…until they build a real great app, and then they shut it down,” says Rubin.

However, Rubin isn’t the first to become familiar with such a move by Twitter. “Unfortunately, it’s pretty typical of Twitter for the past few years,” said Gedeon Maheux, cofounder of Iconfactory, the company behind Twitterrific, “there are a lot of developers who develop for Twitter based on APIs they produce. And they are fine working with it until Twitter decides that’s a space they want to get into. And then the rules change.”

The overarching theme seems to be that Twitter supports you until they decide they want in on the success. A theme that leaves us to pose the question, “Have Twitter and Facebook turned into conglomerates of the internet like the Big Six have with broadcasting?” Between themselves, the two giants have acquired nearly 80 companies, including some of our other favorite social media outlets – Instagram, Vine, and WhatsApp. Do startup companies like Meerkat even have a shot at success when the giants are so easily able to push their own endeavors through the mergers that already exist?

However, choosing to cut Meerkat off at the opening of a conference designated for interactive technology wasn’t the smartest move by Twitter. The conflict has spurred major publicity and support for Meerkat. According to a Medium post, since being cut off from Twitter’s social graph the app’s user base has grown 30 percent. Despite not even being three weeks old, the app is boasting around 150,000 users with the expectation that those numbers will continue to rise.

The viral take off of Meerkat not only has us questioning if it is the next big thing, but also if the live streaming trend in general is the next big thing. The creative ways in which Meerkaters (yes, that’s what they call themselves) have already used the app show promising potential for a myriad of news, marketing, and social uses.

Thus far the app has been used by CNN’s Brian Steller for behind the scenes TV footage, helped to report live demonstrations in Ferguson, and has even caught on with celebrities and brands. Starbucks and Red Bull have taken to the app, Dane Cook and Tony Hawk have used it for impromptu performances, and the Miami Dolphins have also used to it as an outlet to speak to fans.

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Whether or not Meerkat can withstand its hindrance from Twitter remains speculation, along with whether or not the company will be able to withstand Twitter as a direct competitor once Periscope is released. Is Twitter justified in making the cut? Was the two hours notice a reasonable/professional move on Twitter’s part? Have you or anyone you know used the app? What impacts can you see live streaming having on your company or brand?

– Savannah Valade and Caroline Robinson

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