Meerkat emerges as the breakout tech at SXSW Interactive

Streaming video via Twitter is now officially a thing. Meerkat seems to be the preferred live-stream app for stars and politicians. Meanwhile, Twitter has acquired the competition, Periscope.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus meerkats to her followers. (Source: JPR)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus meerkats to her followers. (Source: JPR)

Meerkat ain’t Twitter, one of the huge success stories of SXSW past. Rather, Meerkat, the latest toy for the social web, is an adjunct to Twitter. It is a mobile app that enables video snippets to be live-streamed to the universe, or at least one’s little online section of the universe. The startup got a nice lift when Julia Louis-Dreyfus took to the SXSW stage with her phone held aloft to capture a video of the crowd. “She’s meerkatting,” we were told by moderator Anne Fulenwider of Marie Claire magazine and thus was born another verb we didn’t know we needed for a technology we also had no idea was needed.

Twitter apparently loves the idea. The company bought Meerkat competitor Periscope last week (March 13) and then displayed some unsportsmanlike behavior by making it suddenly more difficult for Meerkat users to automatically connect to their followers.

So what is so great about Meerkat? It’s easy to use. Programming can be scheduled. And, as you stream, the app tells you how many people are watching—instant narcissistic feedback. Also, Meerkat has momentum. The app’s parent company Life on Air revealed initial funding of $3.5 million in seed and Series A funding in January, 2015. After SXSW, financial sites are reporting Meerkat has snagged a new $12 million series B in funding from Josh Elman of Greylock and other anonymous angels. The deal values Meerkat at $52 million. After all the recent exposure the app has over 300K users.

Meerkat has already fallen into the clutches of eager politicians eager to seem tech-saavy, hip, with-it, and able to spout their wit, wisdom, and positions at a moment’s notice. As far as we know, Jeb Bush is the first politician out of the gate with a Meerkat session. The technology also was on display by journalists at the Apple watch press event.

This could get fun. We fully expect to see panicked aides grabbing for politicians mobile phones.

So far we’ve seen some really terrible videos of badly framed investor types talking to their phones and opining about the future of streaming video. That could kill the technology right there. Apparently Snoop Dog and Jimmy Fallon have also been meerkatting.

What we don’t understand is why there isn’t a way to see live-streams once they’re over. Meerkat doesn’t have that feature yet, but there is an app for that. Katch (short for katchkats) will capture the stream, upload it to YouTube, and Tweet the link if you put #katch in the title or comments of a stream.

What do we think?

We are firmly suppressing our cynical selves now because applications like Meerkat and Periscope are important. They will change the way we communicate. The technology will make it much easier to show what you mean rather than to say what you mean.

There’s probably going to be much that we would wish to unsee. Cops will be watched. Bad behavior immortalized. Cats will continue their campaign to dominate our attention. But there is also going to be much that will be joyous and beautiful.

Our final word? Think before you stream.