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Periscope v. Meerkat: Our Initial Re/action

Here's how the two most-talked-about apps of the week stack up.

Vjeran Pavic for Re/code

Are you a Periscope or a Meerkat?

A month ago, that question didn’t make any sense, but boy what a difference a month can make.

On Thursday, Twitter launched Periscope, its standalone livestreaming app, to rival the incumbent industry leader, four-week-old Meerkat, a similar app that took off at the recent South By Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas.

In many ways, the two apps operate the same. Users can stream live video and audio from their smartphones and share a link to the broadcast on Twitter. People can follow along to watch the stream, comment on what’s happening and pass the link along to others in order to build an audience.

The differences, though, subtle as they might be, are what will likely set the two apps apart as users choose one camp over the other. We’ve spent a few days comparing the two, and there are things you should know about each.

Independence from Twitter

Meerkat has put itself in an interesting position. It relies on Twitter — the company it’s now competing with — a lot.

That’s because Meerkat users must sign up with a Twitter account, and every time you “Like” a stream or comment on something you’re watching, those actions are reflected on your Twitter account, too. As Meerkat explains it: “Everything that happens on Meerkat happens on Twitter.” In other words, publicly.

On Periscope, those actions are contained within the app. “Liking” is also different. You can Like a periscope broadcast as much as you want, and each Like (generated by tapping the screen) sends a small heart floating up from the screen’s lower right-hand corner. The idea is that broadcasters can see exactly when their audience really engages.

I found these hearts odd at first, but after broadcasting myself, I have to admit it was helpful. Give the people what they want! My colleague, Re/code Senior Editor Jason Del Rey, agreed on that point in our internal news feed this week. “I like Periscope’s floating hearts,” he wrote. “Laugh away. And you can quote me.”

Oh we did, Jason. We did.

Video Shelf Life

On Meerkat, once you’ve finished streaming, your video is gone from the app. Poof. You can save it to your personal camera roll, but others can’t watch it.

On Periscope, videos are saved to the app and available to your followers for almost 24 hours. You can delete them manually, but the default is that they’re saved and available. You can also save to your phone’s camera roll.

I’m torn. I like that videos are saved on Periscope as it gives me an opportunity to watch things I wasn’t able to tune into live. (And I’m sure Periscope likes that it gives people another reason to open the app.)

At the same time, the ephemerality of Meerkat is interesting. After all, what’s the point of a livestream if you’re not actually watching it live? It also underscores the “pay attention or you’ll miss out” element. It’s like pre-DVR TV.

https://twitter.com/jtemple/status/579311134097838080

Notifications

I’m generally not a fan of push notifications on my phone. Meerkat and Periscope have done nothing to change my mind. For the past week, my phone has been buzzing around the clock with livestream notifications from both apps. It’s overkill.

Push notifications are important for livestreaming. If you don’t know a broadcast is happening in real time, you’ll likely miss it — and tuning in live is pretty much the whole point. (Have I mentioned that yet?)

That necessity aside, both Meerkat and Periscope have a lot of improvements to make in regard to managing these notifications. You can opt out of notifications for new followers on Periscope, but neither app offers significant notification settings, which means you’ll get one whenever anybody you follow starts broadcasting. Sure, you can turn them off entirely, but then you’ll never see anything happening live.

It’ll be important for both apps to give users the option to filter these notifications. If not, more and more people will turn them off entirely, and when an app is out of sight, it’s out of mind.

https://twitter.com/davidbyttow/status/581135684842352640

Look and Feel

Periscope feels more polished than Meerkat. This isn’t a total surprise, given Meerkat was built in less than two months and Periscope was almost a year in the making.

Periscope has a more traditional layout, with multiple tabs across the bottom and a profile view in the upper right-hand corner. You could probably navigate the app just fine on your first attempt.

Meerkat makes it very easy to post — the stream feature is the very first thing you see when you open the app — but the tabs across the top are a little more challenging to navigate. There’s no profile photo or place to describe yourself, either.

One of the issues for me is that Meerkat provides users with a “score” and includes a “leaderboard” tab to highlight users with the highest score. The “score” is a combination of your total viewers, total time spent streaming and engagement by followers, which I find to be unnecessary and more confusing than helpful.

comparison-mk-v-periscope

Conclusion

I don’t think you need both apps, at least not long-term. As with any social network, it will likely come down to the community — which app lets you reach the people you care about most?

In the long run, I believe Periscope has an advantage here. You can easily follow anyone in Periscope you also follow on Twitter, as those people will automatically show up in your “people” tab.

This is no longer simple on Meerkat, because Twitter cut off access to its social graph a few weeks back — a strategic move that makes it harder to find friends within the app. Building a following from scratch can be hard, especially when there’s an easy alternative.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.