How did it feel getting cut off by Twitter with just 2 hours notice? “It sucked” says Meerkat founder Ben Rubin. That’s why it’s determined to treat developers with more respect. In the nine weeks since Meerkat launched, 37 developers have built companion experiences to the livestreaming apps on its unofficial, private API, including stream discovery, automatic uploads of streams to YouTube, and audience analytics tools.
Today, Meerkat is legitimizing those developers by launching an official developer platform and APIs that it promises to never take away. By becoming a platform, Meerkat could allow outside developers to build tools for a much wider variety of use cases than its small, independent team build spawn itself. That might help it differentiate itself from fellow livestreaming app Periscope, which benefits from the massive team and deep pockets of its acquirer Twitter.
You can watch my TechCrunch Disrupt NY fireside chat with Rubin today below to hear him speak his mind about Twitter.
Rubin tells me “Nobody knows what a good livestream is and what this medium is going to be. It’s important to give people a chance to show their creativity.” He hopes Meerkat and its developer ecosystem can push livestreaming past the “Hello World” and “What I’m Having For Breakfast” phase. Together, they could offer the platform and companion tools necessary for creators to make content people are willing to drop what they’re doing to watch and participate in.
On stage today at Disrupt NY, Rubin criticized Twitter for giving Meerkat so little time to move its app off Twitter’s friend finding system. He implied that Twitter acted harshly, saying “Big platforms should take leadership, coming from courage and not fear.”
With the Meerkat API, developers can pull arrays of all current or scheduled streams, and pull details, comments, watchers, and more. For now, there’s no way to post a stream from outside the app. That’s because Rubin tells me “we believe that whatever we release now is a promise forever.” Step by step, Meerkat may cautiously offer more API functionality, “but the last thing we want is to have to take a step back.” Tarikh Korula, founder of #Katch‘s stream-to-YouTube uploader, tells me Meerkat has gone out of its way to be as helpful as possible.
As for his hopes for the platform, Rubin tells me “one thing I want to see is how collaborative streams could be done around a topic or demographic.” A Map view based on the location of streams could also be helpful, considering Periscope CEO Keyvon Beykpour confirmed at Disrupt NY that his company is building a geo-based stream discovery feature.
The platform could be an especially sharp sword to brandish against Twitter, which has repeatedly burned its credibility with developers of app clients, data services, and consumer products like Meerkat by suddenly stripping their access to its systems or steamrolling them with acquisitions and in-house projects. Periscope could launch a platform, but few developers might trust it.
While livestreaming could become a market big enough for both Meerkat and Periscope, there’s no denying that they’re competing for users and attention. Until now, Meerkat’s basically just been Periscope without replays.
According to a Zignal Labs study of streams from Coachella, Periscope saw 49% more mentions than Meerkat. And App Annie says Periscope is in the Top 10 US social apps while Meerkat is around #70. And today, Rubin told me Meerkat has signed up around 2 million users in its 9 weeks since launch, while Periscope hit 1 million in just 10 days. You might not see this as apples-to-apples, but if it is, Periscope’s apple is bigger.
But now Rubin says it has three big differentiators.
First, since it’s live-only, it’s all about real-time participation and conversation between viewers and broadcasters. Second, Rubin says “We’re not committed to distribution on Twitter.” And third, the platform. Rubin concludes “If we want to be a leader in participatory media, we need to allow more teams to be creative. If someone has a cool idea for live video, now they can play with it and bring value to the community.”