If you’re on Twitter, you’ve probably seen a Meerkat link crop up in your feed. It’s the latest craze — an iPhone app that lets people stream video of themselves or their surroundings wherever they are, with just the touch of a button.
As an app, Meerkat is fairly straightforward: users sign in with their Twitter accounts, and sign up to follow people on the service based on a list of who’s popular and who they follow on Twitter. After that, they’re greeted with a list of streams their friends are broadcasting, and a couple of buttons to either schedule or start broadcasting a stream.
Once inside a stream, broadcasters…well, broadcast, and viewers (who are represented in a bar full of their Twitter avatars) can watch, comment on, retweet and like the stream. It’s similar to other streaming services like Twitch and Ustream, but more stripped-down and focused on a mobile audience.
The streams are ephemeral – they start when users hit “stream,” and end after the streamer presses the stop button. Meerkat doesn’t record the streams, so people who don’t catch them live just miss out.
It’s all powered by Twitter, to the point that Meerkat users should, as a good rule of thumb, believe that everything they do on the service will be tweeted publicly. Whenever a user starts a stream, they automatically tweet a link. The in-stream chat functionality is all handled through @-replies on Twitter.
Meerkat is lovably low-fi at this point, and its design works reasonably well. That said, there are two things that I’d change right off the bat. First and foremost, I’d love a way to restart a failed stream, or have a consistent stream URL, similar to what you would find on Twitch. Right now, if your stream stops for any reason, you have to fire up a new one, and the old one that people have already started watching will stop working.
That has the benefit of making Meerkat seem more ephemeral, but it also means that the slightest flub can kill your audience. Speaking of audience, it also seems like Meerkat’s viewer counts only go up, at least for broadcasters. That can make it seem like you’re talking to more people than are actually watching at any given time. Though Meerkat may claim 20 people are there, you may just be shouting into the void.
Overall, though, this is a fun and whimsical app that makes it easy to be a broadcaster for a few minutes and then go on living. It’ll be interesting to see how Meerkat evolves over the coming months.
Meerkat is available for free from the iOS App Store.