If you search for #meerkat on Twitter right now, you'll see two things: thousands of tweets with that hashtag included, and just as many links to live-streamed video feeds.
Meerkat is a new app that's all about live streaming - and Twitter. It relies on Twitter’s distribution and communication systems to connect users together via real-time live streaming. In other words, from the first moment users open the app and start to broadcast, Meerkat triggers a tweet from their accounts with a link to their streams.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Meerkat launched last week and signed up more than 15,000 users in the first three days, some of which have already posted over 8,000 live streams. Data from TopsyMentions has revealed mentions of #meerkat also shot above 4,000 on Tuesday, meaning Meerkat has become an overnight sensation.
With that type of overnight success, it's no wonder that Twitter has...suddenly bought a rival live streaming app and come down on Meerkat like a tyrannical hammer. Yeah, we're not kidding. Keep reading to learn more.
How does Meerkat work?
Download the free Meerkat app from Apple's App Store, then open the app, and log in via Twitter. You'll first need to allow access to your location. The app's main screen displays a "what's happening" field, but it's really a tweet compose field. Once you tap stream on the main screen to start streaming, your "what's happening" message will be posted to Twitter with a link to your live video.
Alternatively, you can tap schedule on the main screen to tweet your live stream at a later time. While streaming, you can flip the camera around and turn on flash. And that's it. When you're done live streaming, simply tap the stop button. The video will disappear, but you'll see how many people watched, and you'll have the opportunity to save the entire stream to your phone for later viewing and sharing.
Your followers on Twitter will see your live stream link and can choose to watch. Your followers in the app will also get a notification to watch. As for scheduling a stream, you can do so during anytime within the next 24 hours, but we have a feeling that Meerkat is becoming a huge hit because it offers you the ability to tap a button and instantly start broadcasting to watchers.
Anyone can tune in to watch through the web or through the app. All streams are automatically pushed to both your Twitter and Meerkat followers in real-time via tweets and notifications, respectively, so you don't have to promote your streams. Your followers are only allowed to watch your broadcast live though, as there is no rerun option. Followers can also re-tweet your live stream to their followers at any time.
You can engage with everybody watching your live stream by tapping the chat icon as you broadcast and writing comments. Your followers will be able to comment back, and all comments will surface on Twitter as @ replies. If you want to interact with other users who are currently broadcasting, just tap the chat icon in their live stream and type away. Once again, your comments will surface in broadcast and on Twitter.
You can also tap the retweet icon in any user's live stream in order to retweet it to your Twitter followers, tap the heart icon to like the broadcast in general, and tap the user's follow link within their live stream to start following them. There are number of options, basically, for being able to communicate with Meerkat users and Twitter followers - whether you're streaming or watching a broadcast.
There are a few ways to discover other users as well as users' live streams:
You can tap your name on the main screen to see who you're following in Meerkat as well as who is following you. If you unfollow someone in Meerkat, it will not affect/sync up with your Twitter account. This area is simply for managing your followers in Meerkat. You can also go to the Leaderboard section (top right from main screen) to see users with the highest score.
The "score" is a combination of total viewers and total time spent streaming and engagement by followers. Currently, Mashable and Jimmy Fallon are at the top of the leaderboard. If you don't care about any of that and just want to find a specific user, tap the search icon (next to the leaderboard icon on main screen). From there, enter a name to find people you may know.
And finally, you can also find live streams in the "Community Picks" section on the main screen. It's at the bottom. Just click on the live stream to watch the broadcast. You can, of course, also engage with that user and other people watching.
What else has the team behind Meerkat done?
Ben Rubin, 27, is the CEO and cofounder of Life On Air (previously known as Yevvo).
StartupCamel.com claimed he began the startup in 2011 while studying architecture as a third-year college student. Life On Air launched its first app in 2013 but has since pulled the Yevvo app from the App Store. According to The Wall Street Journal, Life On Air only recently began switching its entire team of 10 to work on Meerkat.
The Meerkat app, which has received backing from Israeli venture firm Aleph, apparently launched last Friday as an “an experimental side project". The startup’s main business was another app, called Air, though Rubin announced on 3 March - likely after witnessing the success of Meerkat - that he decided to have his whole team begin focusing on Meerkat going forward.
And that's where things are at today.
What does Twitter think of Meerkat?
Everybody was waiting for Twitter to acquire Meerkat (see update below). Twitter hadn't said anything at first, but it did immediately shut down Meerkat's ability to auto-tweet for users. Meerkat's cofounder promptly asked Twitter via a tweet why it blocked all outgoing tweets, especially because Meerkat worked "well within" the API.
Minutes later, Meerkat said it was working with their "friends" at Twitter to solve the issue. Meerkat’s ability to tweet was back in no time, with Rubin telling TechCrunch that the shut down of auto-tweeting was automatic on Twitter’s part and likely due to Twitter's anti-spam system. Rubin also proclaimed on Twitter that the "Twitter people" are pretty awesome.
UPDATE: Twitter is going after Meerkat by buying a rival live streaming app called Periscope.
Twitter vs Meerkat
The very same day that Twitter announced the acquisition of Periscope, Rubin confirmed Twitter had officially disconnected Meerkat's ability to pull information about a user’s follower base. That means users signed into Meerkat are no longer able to automatically link their Twitter followers to their Meerkat account, a devastating blow for the young app.
Twitter also confirmed the news: "We are limiting their access to Twitter's social graph, consistent with our internal policy," a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement. "Their users will still be able to distribute videos on Twitter and login with their Twitter credentials."
It's worth noting that Twitter acquired Periscope and cut of Meerkat right before Rubin had hoped to use the annual SXSW festival as a spring board to launch his new app and get wide-spread attention. Twitter knows SXSW could've done that. It didn't start becoming powerful until it made a debut at SXSW in 2007. That said, Business Insider reported that Rubin still showed up at SXSW and expressed appreciation for Twitter.
“We would not be sitting here if it wasn’t for Twitter,” Rubin said during a Yahoo Tech event at SXSW, while describing Twitter as a house and Meerkat as guests in that house. “We need to be grateful for that.”
What's next for Meerkat?
Rubin told The Wall Street Journal that the Meerkat team now has to provide users with a way to discover people and search more people, adding that Twitter had "escalated our decision-making a little bit forward". Also, currently, you can only watch a Meerkat stream if you catch the live stream link in your Twitter feed. Meerkat now wants to expand on that and give users the ability to save and republish videos after broadcasting.
But by doing that, Meerkat would lose its ephemeral touch. We're assuming Rubin isn't too concerned with that at the moment, as trying to survive without Twitter's nod of approval, while also adding new and enticing features to Meerkat, is probably at the top of his to-do list.