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What Is Periscope, and Why Am I Watching Someone Eat Lunch?

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor
Yahoo Tech

The revolution will be … live-streamed. 

Twitter’s new Periscope app is now available for iOS (an Android version is in the works). Like the similarly buzzy app Meerkat, it lets you live-stream video of your life from your smartphone to anyone in the world.

The app is just a day old, but people are already streaming everything from lunches to commutes to breaking news. In the long run, it could be a hit or it could be a fad; either way, it’s sure got people’s attention, and you should know about it.

Here’s our in-depth explainer of all things Periscope.

What the heck is a Periscope?

A periscope is a mirror-filled tube used by submarines, but that’s not what we’re talking about. 

Periscope, the app, is a new service from the people at Twitter that lets you watch and broadcast live video from around the world. Actually, Twitter purchased the app from a small team for a reported $100 million; the app was created a little over a year ago but has been in a private beta mode until Thursday, when it was released to anyone with an iOS device for free. 

The video is streamed from your smartphone and gives people a live look at what’s happening anywhere at any given time. The video can be viewed either on a mobile device, through the app, or on a laptop or computer, via the Periscope website.

Why do I want this?

Think about it. You can watch video of anything happening at this exact moment anywhere in the world. Want to see someone ride a roller coaster in Japan? You can see it. Interested to see what it’s like to walk around New York City? Check it out. (As long as those things are occurring at the time, anyway.)

Perhaps more important, though, Periscope will allow people to stream major news stories as they happen in real time. As I was writing this article, a building caught fire in New York City’s East Village. Sure enough, many citizen reporters were using Periscope to stream the scene and provide live video to give context to written news reports.

But what if I don’t have anything interesting to stream?

That’s part of the charm of an app like Periscope. Sometimes you’re going to be able to watch something amazing or historic; other times you’re going to watch someone eat ramen. It’s a crapshoot. And as more people join, the stuff to watch will certainly get better.

How do I watch a stream?

When you download the Periscope app, you are given the option to subscribe to the streams of the people you follow on Twitter.

Any time someone starts a new stream, you’ll get an alert telling you that they’re broadcasting. You can also browse the Most Loved streams to see what other people are tuning in to by tapping the People button at the bottom of the screen.

What are all of those hearts on the screen?

Those are … hearts. They basically let you know when people like what you’re broadcasting.

The more hearts you get on a stream, the more likely it is to pop up in the Most Loved stream.

How do I stream?

Streaming is just as easy. You simply tap the TV icon, enter the name of your stream, and start broadcasting.

Can anyone see my streams?

Not if you don’t want them to. Before you start broadcasting, you can tap on the lock icon and select the people that you want to be able to see your stream.

Or you can broadcast to the public.

What happens after my stream is over?

Once you finish your stream, you can choose to either save it or erase it. Don’t want your stream to stay up too long? You can always go back and delete it after it’s been saved.

So that’s it?

That’s it. Now go get streaming.

Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley or on Google+.

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