Schrödinger’s Meerkat

We humans are mostly boring. Our daily activity, unless carefully curated by the entertainment complex, is mundane and few people outside of our immediate family and circle of friends care about us. It is into this cold, dark world that Meerkat was born.

A “massive” hit at SXSW, the app allows us to stream live video to folks who follow us on Twitter. When you initiate a stream your followers find out about it and they can watch every fumbled phone drop and every odd angle until you quit out or they quit out. One video I saw featured Jim Gaffigan and Adam Goldberg trying to figure the app out. It consisted mostly of shots of Gaffigan’s forehead and beard, transmitted live to about two hundred people, myself included.

We humans are not good at being spontaneously amazing. While there are times when unedited video is important – in the face of disaster or when trying to show the ugly or truly beautiful – mankind does not need to be video-streamed.

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Social media is a highly curated experience. Tools like Instagram and Vine require preparation and skill to maintain vitality and, in turn, virality and the only semi-live video that gets popular is revenge porn – when an invective-spouting weirdo gets his or her comeuppance – or graphic police footage. It’s sad but true: most of this latter footage is “found” in that it is edited after the fact. You wouldn’t Meerkat a violent arrest, you’d record it for later upload. None of us, not even Jim Gaffigan with his million or so followers, can gather enough people with live video to make it meaningful.

Arguably a major media star like Lady Gaga or Iggy Azalea could probably gather a few hundred live stream viewers but then what? At some point someone will say something stupid and their PR machine will outlaw the production of live video and require everything be vetted by lawyers. Live video is dangerous for the very people who could make it popular.

Here’s what’s going to happen: both Meerkat and Twitter’s Periscope will dodder along and be forgotten. It’s already happening. As the above chart shows, Periscope had a strong lead out of the gate just as Meerkat – and SXSW – sputtered out. Look: live streaming tools are useless, at least right now. They don’t put our narcissistic bodies in a good light, they don’t allow for careful curation, and they don’t allow for the soft sex or real porn associated with most instantaneous sharing systems. It would take hours to recreate the Will Sasso lemon videos, for better or worse.

Meerkat, which raised $12 million last week, will have to pivot yet again and offer corporate live streaming solutions while Periscope will go the way of Facebook Paper – a massive corporate effort that fizzles into nothing.

To be clear: not all live streaming is unpopular. Twitch hit the sweet spot by melding the endless enjoyment of watching someone play video games while being simultaneously trolled by commenters and nearly killed by SWAT teams. But these cases are few and far between.

I could be wrong – perhaps hours of video featuring you on the couch watching Adult Swim will be the next Citizen Kane – but I doubt it. Live video is a very specific medium and requires a great deal of planning to pull off well. While we can complain of the dumbing-down of global media, unfettered live streaming is dumber still.

But it’s a cute and fun thing to try and many people will fire up the apps and shut them down, relegating them to the folders that now hold Qik and Livestream.

HT @fromedome