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Meerkat CEO: We Will Build Our Own Social Network

Rafe Needleman
Editorial Director, Yahoo Tech
Yahoo Tech

Meerkat CEO: We Will Build Our Own Social Network

The smartphone video live-streaming service, Meerkat, was flying high. Launched in February, two weeks before South by Southwest, the app won over the geek elite. Meerkat had the video chops programmed in, and it used the Twitter social network to connect users to each other and tell them when their friends were live online.

All was going swimmingly, until Twitter put the brakes on Meerkat’s access. Twitter, it turns out, is preparing to launch its own video service, based on the startup Periscope, which it acquired in January. You didn’t know that? Neither did Meerkat CEO Ben Rubin: Twitter’s Periscope acquisition was not publicized until a few days ago.


Ben Rubin sat down with David Pogue at SXSW in a Yahoo TechMix interview. He went into some detail about the Twitter action, but came across as magnanimous and unworried. And thankful for Twitter’s support so far.

David Pogue and Ben Rubin (Photo: Rafe Needleman/Yahoo)

Friends… at the start

Rubin said Twitter and Meerkat had worked together in the run-up to the launch of the service. Some of Meerkat’s autogenerated messages notifying users of new streams and replies were initially classified by Twitter as spam and banned; Twitter then modified its processing of Meerkat tweets so Meerkat could send them.

But Rubin says he saw the clash coming. “We knew Twitter would be upset at some point,” Rubin said. However, he added, “We didn’t know they were buying a company in this space.”

In announcing the Periscope acquisition, Twitter also imposed its “internal policy” to not let third parties, like Meerkat, use its social graph “in a competitive way,” Rubin said. On this point he did jab at Twitter, pointing out that “internal policy” is doublespeak. Policies for platform companies should be open, he said.  

Twitter’s new restrictions on Meerkat won’t kill the service, Rubin argued, saying: “They block access to their social graph. It doesn’t mean they blocked the main mission of what we do.” He said that Meerkat used Twitter consciously to get a leg up: “The idea was to jump-start the community on top of Twitter, but the idea was never to build the social graph on top of Twitter.”

That doesn’t mean that Twitter’s restriction isn’t felt. Without Twitter’s full support, “It’s a little harder for use to build the community for new users,” Rubin said. “But, you know, we were lucky. Twitter was very nice to us. And it’s their house. We need to be the best guest there is.”

Rubin doesn’t even seem especially worried about Periscope, the live-streaming company Twitter acquired. “We don’t look at it as a rival,” he said. “That was a decision made within Twitter with their own agenda. We have our own agenda. We are lucky to be independent and outside.”

Beyond Twitter

So how will Meerkat move forward, without Twitter’s full blessing? Rubin said that Meerkat will start to build its own social graph mechanics. “We are definitely going to start our own network,” he said. “We are already starting to decouple the social graph.”

When David Pogue asked Rubin about using Facebook instead of Twitter, Rubin said, “Posting video to your wall is not relevant, since only 12 percent of your friends see what you post within 24 hours.” But he’s not ruling out working with, or on, Facebook’s platform. “There is other stuff Facebook can allow you regarding distribution. Very soon, we have a new way to find users.”

A diplomat on the interview stage, Rubin remained sanguine through the discussion. “We need to acknowledge the fact that we would not be sitting here were it not for Twitter,” he said. And by imposing restrictions, he says, Twitter might have helped the company: “Maybe the fact that they escalated our decision-making might be something very good for us.”

Here’s the full interview: