Everything You Need to Know About Meerkat, the App That Has Taken Over SXSW

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Every year at SXSW, there are usually a couple of apps and start-ups that stand out from the rest for better or worse and garner a bit of hype for themselves.

This year it was all about the live streaming app Meerkat, which had been growing in popularity for a few weeks since its launch on February 27 but it has now hit a fever pitch.

What exactly is it though? It’s an iPhone app for live streaming that allows users to stream live video to their Twitter followers. Twitter has been key to Meerkat spreading awareness and with that, it has gradually crawled up the App Store charts of late.

Twitter is a must for using the app as you need sign in with your Twitter account to get started. You can view someone’s live stream via the Meerkat app and reply through tweets.

A marketer’s dream

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It can be fun little app to use and share streams with friends but it’s actually brands and marketers that are most excited about the prospects of Meerkat. Like Twitter, Snapchat, and Vine before it, Meerkat is offering a new potential marketing avenue (or “meerkating” as some have started calling it) for their products and companies.

Red Bull has been one of the first brands to take advantage of the app when it streamed snowboarding contests through Meerkat, which gave us just a glimpse of its potential.

However, the Meerkat party is not without its roadblocks. Twitter has already put restrictions on the app’s use of the social network, where Meerkaters can no longer translate their Twitter followers into Meerkat followers. Why you ask? Twitter has just acquired Periscope, the live streaming start-up that is very similar to Meerkat.

At SXSW in a live talk with Yahoo’s David Pogue, the app’s CEO and co-founder Ben Rubin said that it would overcome this little hiccup. Twitter’s moves against the live streaming app have now forced Rubin’s hand to look at new features much sooner than he had planned.

“We need to provide users a way to discover more people and search more people,” he said, adding that Meerkat isn’t pursuing “ephemerality” in the vein of Snapchat.

Currently, live streams are deleted once they finish but Rubin says he and the team are now looking at ways of saving or republishing your streams if you wish. “We want to make sure that you control the content after you post it,” he said.

On Wednesday, the app added a new “light follow” feature for the web where users can follow you and then receive notifications on their iPhones when you’re launching a live stream.

This appears to be just one of the features that Rubin is launching to reduce the app’s need for Twitter but it’s going to have to delve into many more new ideas if it really wants to set itself apart.

Future of news and media?

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While marketers might be salivating over the possibilities that Meerkat brings (and Periscope too), it could also be a sea change in news reporting and news gathering. Live streaming is nothing new but an app like Meerkat brings a fresh level of ease and accessibility to it.

Some journalists have been using it to cover events in Ferguson, giving followers an even more unique sight into the events than say a photo or a Vine. Meerkat could be huge for journalists on the ground as well as burgeoning citizen journalists, whether it’s in Ferguson or something like the Arab Spring. On flipside though, live streaming a Meerkat video, which doesn’t have any time limits, can really eat into your data.

Nevertheless, since its late February launch, Meerkat has gathered over 120,000 users but getting past the hype stage over these next few weeks will test Meerkat’s resolve or else it will be another flash in the pan.

Also, it’s only available on iOS currently. Supposedly there’s an Android version in the works but Meerkat will need to get ahead on that promptly. Android users still obviously make up a sizeable chunk of smartphone users so taking up that user base before a competitor swoops in is vital for Meerkat to stay ahead of the curve.

It has seen impressive growth in this short amount of time but the race is now on with Periscope and other live streaming apps in a bid to become the default app that people go to for live video. One way or the other, Meerkat wants to be the Instagram of live streaming.

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