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A Beginner’s Guide to Meerkat, the Hot, New Live-Streaming App for Twitter

Alyssa Bereznak
National Correspondent, Technology
Yahoo Tech

In your face, cute Secret fox. (Via Meerkat)

As a society that live-blogs, tweets, and Instagrams every major event, we’ve become accustomed to a certain level of community voyeurism. We are all watching each other. We even have a Bravo show that’s literally about watching people watch TV. 

A new startup has found a simple and captivating way to capitalize on this obsession. Meerkat, a desktop and iOS app that rose to popularity last week with the help of Silicon Valley’s water cooler, allows you to easily live-stream video from your phone to Twitter, so your followers can watch and comment in real time.

Since Meerkat made its grand entrance on the Internet, the Twitterati have quickly adopted it, live-streaming everything from interviews with U.S. senators to feeds of adorable pets. To be honest, though, it’s mostly pets. And I have no problem with that. Here’s a peek into how the app works, so you can enjoy the pets, too.

Setting Up

After downloading the app on your iPhone, you’re asked to sign into Meerkat using your Twitter account. Be warned! This means that every time you decide to stream a video from within the Meerkat app, it’ll automatically post a link to it on your Twitter timeline. Anything that comes into the view of your smartphone’s camera will be broadcast, with sounds, to whoever clicked the link.

Once you’re in, you’ll arrive at a home screen that looks something like this:

Broadcasting

If you’d like to start streaming video from your smartphone, simply give a title to whatever you’re filming in the blank white box and tap Stream. The app will immediately ask for access to your camera and begin live-streaming whatever your phone is pointed at. Anyone who follows you on Twitter and also has the Meerkat app on their phone will get an alert that you’re streaming live. At the same time, a tweet that looks like this will be posted to your Twitter account:

As of now, you have no say on what that tweet looks like, aside from the title you typed into that blank white box. Mine, in this instance, was “chloe,” the name of my super-adorable cat. The rest is the doing of Meerkat. If you were on your computer last night and happened to see this tweet, you could’ve clicked on that URL and arrived to a page that looked a little like this (aside from it saying the stream is over).

Judging from my week’s survey of desktop Meerkat videos, it’s clear that the app is designed to work most optimally on mobile devices. Videos streamed from the desktop view tend to be too zoomed in and stretched out. Ideally, the whole operation should look something like this:

This is the view you’d get on your phone. Up at the very top left-hand corner is the name of the person who’s doing the streaming. Below that, you’ll see a string of picture bubbles. Those are the Twitter profile pictures of every person who clicked on your link and is currently watching your feed. 

Participating

At the bottom of the screen, you have a few basic controls. To comment, tap on the speech bubble in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen. You can also do this by replying to the original Meerkat tweet on Twitter, but these replies are still sort of glitchy and delayed. Comments appear at the bottom of the screen, next to the person’s Twitter handle.

Tapping the button with the arrows allows you to “restream” the feed to your own followers, both on Meerkat and Twitter. The heart button allows you to “like” the feed (this also shows up in the comments at the bottom of the screen).

The Aftermath

Once the feed is over, it’s over. You, the streamer, can choose to download the footage you took into your own personal library, but, according to Meerkat, it’ll never be kept on the cloud. 

Scheduling Streams

Back at the home screen, you can choose to schedule an event by tapping Schedule. You’ll have the option to add a photo and decide when you’ll air it. 

Then a notification is sent to your followers, alerting them of these details. Anyone who follows you on the app will also see a box at the bottom of your homepage, with details of the upcoming event, like so:

You can choose to subscribe to the event by tapping the square white box below it. This way, you’ll be notified once it starts. 

Other Stuff

In theory, everyone you’re following on Twitter is automatically added to the list of people you follow on Meerkat, but when people join, the app has been semi-slow to catch up. You can see the people you follow and who follows you by tapping the upper left-hand corner of the screen. 

There’s also a weird score associated with your user name, which you can compare to the “leaderboard” by tapping on the award icon on the upper right-hand corner of the screen. But I’m inclined to ignore that because: Who cares?

Streams work much better if you’re connected to some sort of strong Wi-Fi network. Do it for the sake of your data plan and the stability of your footage.

That’s about it. Now go forth, my fellow Meerkats, and start live-streaming your pets. I’m sure they’ll do something cute enough to justify my voyeurism. 

Follow Alyssa Bereznak on Twitter or email her.