I’ve been using Periscope for about five months. I would run into the team almost daily at a coffee shop, and since we were both in pre-launch building mode, watching their team grow as they built their product was inspiring.
It was Wednesday, January 28, when I saw exactly what Periscope would mean for Twitter users. I had decided to take an old college friend and his father to dinner in the Mission in San Francisco. The kind of friend who is a small-town boy and always tells me he doesn’t understand all this tech stuff.
As we sat on the rooftop having a Tecate, my phone buzzed. Our reservation was ready next door. We headed down the elevator, and the moment we walked out the front door, something wasn’t right.
I heard sirens roaring down the street. The smell of smoke was thick. When I looked up, the entire corner building was raging in flames. I then realized that I was the first person on the scene. By accident. Fire trucks started pulling up and immediately were sending ladders to the roof.
The only thing that crossed my mind was: I have to share what’s happening.
So I opened Periscope.Watching what happened next, both on my phone from the Periscope community to the firefighters directly above me was one of the most intense moments I’ve ever had.
The way the firefighters were trying to get to the top floor where the smoke was completely black made me believe someone was still in there. I zoomed in. A fully masked man standing on the end of the ladder screaming back at his crew to bring him a ladder so he could climb through a flaming window.
Then he jumped through the window and disappeared into the smoke. The intensity grew and more men ran up the ladder screaming words I could barely understand. Ashes and pieces of the building started falling on top of me.
I just kept filming. Because in my hand something else had been happening.Kayvon Beykpour, the co-founder of Periscope, decided to invite his followers to watch the broadcast. Then another Periscope team member did. Then others followed suit. Within 30 seconds, there were 50 people watching this happen right from my hand. Jack Dorsey asked a question. I saw Ev Williams join. Chase Jarvis decided to jump into the conversation. A few people I had never met were reminding me to be safe.
The interesting thing was that no news crew was on the scene yet; it was just me and my phone. Moreover, no TV camera has a live feedback channel where people can support and ask questions directly to the broadcaster. I was answering everyone’s questions in real time.
We are eight minutes in to the Periscope and 50-plus people are watching. I can’t stop filming now. As Chase Jarvis once told me, in bad situations you have an obligation to shoot.
My eyes are moving from the comments on my screen, the ashes falling on my head, to the firefighters racing up the ladder. Something doesn’t feel right. Somebody is still inside, you can just tell from the urgency to get in this one window.
I keep filming. My hands start to shake. More questions start rolling onto my screen. Then we hear the saw start. Another group of firefighters were trying to cut through the roof.
After about 10 minutes, the flames start to subside and the commotion is settling down. The news trucks start to arrive and there’s a helicopter now flying overhead. But it is already over.
I headed to dinner with my friend and his father. A friend and his dad who never understood why or when to use Twitter knew exactly why someone would use Periscope. It just made sense to them.
I don’t know what Twitter paid for Periscope but it doesn’t matter. Periscope truly allows people to share “what’s happening” and that’s all that matters. You could build this on top of Twitter but the truth is that it needs to be its own platform for everyone else in the world who doesn’t get Twitter.
That evening, while sitting alone having a cocktail, I finally heard the news. A lady had died in the fire. She was trapped on the top floor. I started crying. I’ve never felt the emotion that poured over me at that moment. I felt as if I should have been able to do something since I was there. But I couldn’t.
That moment was when I realized that Periscope isn’t just another social media app; it literally changes how I, and everyone else, can see the world. There’s nothing else like it.