Not all that long ago, to call yourself a broadcaster you needed the blessing of station executives and a pretty smile. But communications technology is advancing so quickly that anybody with an internet connection can now share their perspective with the world. Twitter and Facebook brought this idea into the mainstream with text, photos and emails and now new players are arriving to take things in almost-scary new directions. Launched today, the Periscope live video app can turn anybody with an iPhone into a citizen journalist, whether they be streaming the scene of a disaster-zone or coming at you live from the breakfast table.
Twitter acquired Periscope in February, apparently looking to bring the nature of its frenzied, real-time text updates to life on screen. Available for iOS with Android on the way, the app allows users to stream vision from their smartphone camera to anybody and everybody using Twitter's distribution network.
You can sign in using your Twitter account and start to follow people, at which point their live streams will start to appear in a feed. A simple tap means you can see the world through the eye of your new friend's smartphone camera for as long as they choose to keep the stream running. At the same time, you can leave comments or tap the screen once to send the user an Instagram-like heart to show your appreciation.
You might also decide that what you're doing is a hell of a lot more interesting than the people you are following, in which case you can become the broadcaster. Part of this means choosing whether everybody sees the stream or just the people you chose to invite, and interacting with your viewers once they tune in.
Periscope's launch comes hot on the heels of the much-hyped live streaming app Meerkat, which also interfaces with Twitter. Released in mid-February, Meerkat will push out notifications to your Twitter followers if you start to broadcast live. As you stream, you can see how many people are watching and begin conversations with them.
So fundamentally, these two new apps serve the same purpose, giving smartphone users a platform to broadcast to anybody that will listen, but there is one notable difference. Where Meerkat lowers the curtain on your video the moment you end the stream, Periscope allows users to save videos so people can view them at a later date, or perhaps over and over again.
It's still early days for these apps, but they find themselves locked in an intriguing battle to take hold of the smartphone streaming throne, if there is to be such a thing. The fallout of this struggle may have enduring impacts on the way we consume content, beyond what your friend had for dinner. It could profoundly shape the way people are informed through first-hand, real-time accounts of significant moments, just as Twitter came to do with events like the Boston bombings and the Arab Spring.
Both apps are free and available on iOS only, for now.