The Rise and Relevance of Social Live Streaming

The Rise and Relevance of Social Live Streaming

2 years ago, an app development firm in California put together an app that attempted to rethink the ways of social media. With the release of Hang W/, the focus was on real-time interaction, where one person would broadcast a live video feed, from their iPhone, of whatever they were doing, and all the viewers could interact and comment, in real time, to what they were seeing.

Taking the concept of Twitter, which allowed for instant access to current events, breaking news, and people’s lives, Hang W/’s idea was to put you on the scene – LIVE – and not restrict you to someone else’s accounts of what happened. Not only did it open the door to news and current events, but it served as a platform to make anyone who broadcast into a small-scale (or massive, depending on following) reality star.

Not long after it’s launch, several celebrities started to jump on board, including Larry the Cable Guy, rapper 50 Cent, Former NFL player and Apprentice contestant Terrell Owens, and actress Lucy Hale (to name a few). Hang W/ was opening a new door to real-time interaction with fans and give them a glimpse into their lives.


Shortly after it’s launch, Hang W/ boasted over a million users, added broadcast archives (so viewers could re-watch streams) and introduced web-based viewing through Facebook. They began to refine and experiment with what social live streaming could be, and paved the way for this next wave of social media.

Fast forward to just a few short weeks ago, and the launch of another service called Meerkat. The idea of Meerkat was almost the same as Hang W/, but the execution was much different. Users would sign-in with their Twitter account, and could still broadcast their lives, but the way real-time interaction happened was much different. Now – comments in the live broadcast were real-time tweets at the broadcaster (Version 1.1 of the app – released March 27 – allows this to be turned off), so anyone on Twitter could see one side of the conversation.

This led to some upset users, and some scrutiny from Twitter for how they were handling their Twitter integration. Twitter had already purchased an anticipated competitor to Meerkat, so they did what Twitter does best – made it a pain for the developers. By restricting what parts of a users Twitter profile Meerkat had access to, it instantly became difficult for Meerkat users to find the people they wanted to follow, which hampered the ability to build a community for many users.


The upside of Meerkat was that as users started a broadcast, a link was shared to Twitter, so celebrities like Jimmy Fallon took full advantage of the new platform and amassed a huge viewer base to showcase their lives – in the now. Meerkat, unlike Hang W/, offered no way to rewind or re-watch a broadcast. Once it was done, it was gone, and if you didn’t tune in, you missed out (unless the broadcaster saved and shared their broadcast on Youtube later). Meerkat, unlike Hang W/, was an instant splash in the social media world.

Just a few short weeks later, Twitter flipped the switch on their Meerkat competitor, Periscope. Just like the others, Periscope allowed users to broadcast and viewers to comment, in real-time, but took the Hang W/ approach handing the social media integration. When signing up, users connected with their Twitter account, but could choose whether or not to share their broadcast on Twitter (or even restrict it to a select private group).

Commenting on Periscope was also very similar to Hang W/, in the sense that comments left on the broadcast were self-contained – not shared for the world (outside of Periscope) to see. Additionally, Periscope added a unique feature that allowed people to give feedback to the broadcaster without commenting anything. By simply tapping anywhere in the viewing window, the viewer can give hearts to say they love what they’re seeing. Unlike a favorite/retweet on Twitter, or a Like on Facebook, the number of hearts is limitless, and with each heart, the Broadcaster gains “Love” – the more love a broadcaster has, the higher their “rank” is in the Most Loved section of the app.


Who wins the social live streaming race?

With three unique social live streaming apps, it’s hard to imagine they can all co-exist for long. Broadcasters will choose the platform they prefer, and the platform that yields the best return for them. For the average user, the draw will be one of two things: what app their family and friends are on, and the app their favorite celebrities are broadcasting from. The question is, which network will come out on top and what happens to the others?

Hang W/ certainly has the years under their belt to know what works and what doesn’t. They’ve had time to refine things and make changes to make user discovery great, and have refined the way notifications and archiving work as well. Another perk of Hang W/ is users ability to make money for their broadcasts. By enabling a simple setting, users can take a little piece of the advertising money that comes from the pre- and post-broadcast splash screen advertisement. Their 2+ million users also gives them a good foundation for success, but nothing says those users can’t jump ship for something else.

Meerkat is the only of the three that (currently) handles portrait and landscape broadcasting and viewing for it’s users (when rotating to the non-broadcast variant, the video zooms to fill the screen), and the term “meerkating” is by far the catchiest term for broadcasting on any of the three networks. Hanging, as Hang W/ refers to it, is another good term for broadcasting, but is much less catchy. Periscope-ing sounds a little strange, but I’m sure with a little time, a better word will come along.

Periscope, of the three, seems to have jumped to the front, especially considering it’s extremely short existence thus far, but the celebrity attraction is already there, with broadcasts from Jimmy Fallon, Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, Youtube star Philip DeFranco, and astronaut Chris Hadfield climbing into the thousands of viewers. Having Twitter as your parent company certainly doesn’t hurt, and the the apps interface and user experience are simple and easy to understand.

Content is King

Inevitably, other apps are bound to come along and take a crack at this social live streaming thing, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Google or Facebook backing one of those projects. For the looks of it now (based on Twitter feedback and personal opinion) Meerkat’s days are numbered, unless they make a huge shift away from their attempts at Twitter integration. Hang W/ has proved that they can build an app that offers flexibility to it’s users, but their user growth and celebrity user base seems to be stagnating. Periscope’s presence will inevitably steal some of that spotlight and draw big names to the platform (much like we saw Jimmy Fallon jump from Meerkat to Periscope), but it’s going to be a battle for relevant content that makes one prevail.

Only a few years ago, Twitter was a bit of a mystery in the world of MySpace and Facebook, and has since become a dominant source of news, conversation,  and information, and the next wave of social platforms is coming (or may already be here). Will the quality of content and immediate interaction of Periscope, Meerkat, Hang W/, or some other social live streaming platform be the future of social media, or is it just a fad, made news by the likes of Twitter and Facebook?

Let us know what you think of these apps (or others like them), and what you think the next wave of social media is. Follow me on Periscope (@IanFuchs), let me know what you think on Twitter (@IanFuchs), or leave a comment below.