To a very small corner of the Internet, Periscope’s 28 employees are total celebrities.
That much was abundantly clear during the Periscope Community Summit this week, a four-day, live-streaming conference for the company’s biggest fan boys and fan girls in San Francisco.
From sports action enthusiasts to comedians to underwater photographers, the audience at the summit broadcasts for many reasons and from many nooks and crannies of the world. They’re in San Francisco, though, to spend time — in person — with fellow livestreamers they know closely but that they’ve never actually met in the flesh. That’s the beauty of Periscope; live video creates a feeling of intimacy that other social media can’t replicate.
As Periscope CEO Kayvon Beykpour and seven other Periscope employees took the stage for a Q&A in the Park Central hotel’s second-floor ballroom Friday morning, a few hundred ‘scopers (as they call themselves) gravitated toward the front of the oversized event space to get a better angle for their Periscope video streams. The employees — primarily software engineers and designers — were greeted with a standing ovation.
“I can’t tell you how surreal and incredible it is to sit here and see you guys as our power users,” Beykpour said after settling into his seat. “You are our community. Without you, Periscope would not exist.”
“Power users” is indeed the best way to describe the crowd at Periscope Summit, and celebrity might be the best way to describe what Periscope’s employees mean to this group of diehard fans. The Periscope staff is often broadcasting live from the Periscope office, which makes the small team an oddly recognizable bunch. Each employee received hoots, hollers and applause after introducing themselves. The group started talking about the employees’ dogs that hang out in the office, and audience members started shouting out the names of their favorites, like Scotch and Lola.
When the moderator opened the microphone to audience questions, the line was instantly a dozen people deep. The questions for the staff ranged from inside jokes (“Why do you hate emojis, Tyler?”) to specific product questions (“When are more search features coming to your Apple TV app?”). One woman asked what the user base could do to help Periscope out. Almost every answer was greeted with applause.
One attendee couldn’t contain her admiration for the Periscope team. “You guys are like our parents, we’re like your babies,” she said. “We’re so grateful that you’re here.”
The scene might as well have been straight out of HBO’s satirical tech spoof “Silicon Valley,” a clear demonstration of the cult following that certain tech products and trends accumulate, especially those that operate in the world of social media.
To some, Periscope’s employees are rock stars, the creators of their favorite app and the gatekeepers of the future of live-streaming technology. Even if it’s just a few hundred, that perception must be encouraging for Twitter, which bought Periscope last January and is desperate for a product (and stock) resurgence that might help goose its ailing business.
Perhaps the most amazing part of the summit was that it wasn’t a Periscope- or Twitter-hosted event. Periscope employees were clearly the guests of honor, but the summit’s founder is Ryan Bell, a 38-year-old father of two and a self-proclaimed “Periscope fan boy” who spent the past year planning two conferences and consulting for brands that want to better understand the medium. Building the community has become his full-time job.
“It’s so much damn fun,” he said in an interview. Bell started ‘scoping last year at the recommendation of a friend. He’d previously done some writing online and spent a great deal of time walking around a local baseball field near his Berkeley, Calif., home talking to strangers on Periscope about a book idea he was working on. It was the kind of therapeutic exercise any writer can relate to. Bell quickly got hooked. “If there’s a community that’s interactive, you almost feel compelled,” he explained. “Like, ‘I owe my community content.'”
The interaction kept him on Periscope, and inspired the idea for putting together an offline conference to bring together the people he was meeting online. Bell views himself as one of the industry’s movers and shakers — he has about 11,000 Periscope followers but says his job is to connect people in the industry, not gain Periscope fame for himself. He works the conference room like the former bartender and BMW salesman that he is, hugging, high-fiving and generally working to keep everything running on time. Some of the attendees he’s known long before Periscope even existed; many of them he’s met online over the past year. “[People get to know each other online] to an insane degree,” he explained.
It’s this community of super fans that inspired Bell to host his first Periscope Community Summit in New York this fall, an event he says had 500 attendees. The San Francisco summit sold 1,000 tickets, he added, and he certainly plans to keep going. Bell is eyeing Las Vegas for next year’s summit, he said.
Bell is, not surprisingly, a live-streaming bull. He estimates there are more than 40 companies trying to get into the medium today, most of which have cropped up over the past year and many of them in beta on his smartphone. There’s MeVee and Krue and Firetalk. He uses one of the industry’s other well-known apps, Meerkat, when he “wants to be alone,” he said. (Ouch!)
But Periscope, which has at least 10 million downloads, is the industry leader thanks to Twitter and its existing audience, said Bell. “There’s a lot of dead bodies in the live-streaming grave because people aren’t making [the apps] correctly,” he added. “The one thing people get wrong that Periscope gets right is having a community. Periscope is owned by Twitter, and Twitter owns the firehose.”
Super fans of a technology or brand are nothing new. Instagram has them. Twitter has them. The makeup brand Sephora even has them. But Bell and Periscope both hope that the live-streaming industry is for real.
“It’s so much more real [than other media],” said Bell. “It’s not fake. It’s not the bullsh*t picture of some couple jumping on the beach and the next week you see that they’re broken up. It’s real life and if you’re faking it people can tell.”
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.