In Depth

Meerkat app: what is it and why has Twitter blocked it?

Live video streaming app Meerkat is being hailed as the 'next big thing' but surviving Twitter's blackout may prove difficult

It can be hard to distinguish genuine digital contenders from tech pretenders, but the excitement around a new app called Meerkat seems genuine and some analysts believe it may point to the next big trend in video communication.

The app has been the toast of the interactive media, music and film conference South by South West, Business Insider says, but what does Meerkat actually do and why has Twitter reacted by blocking it?

What is Meerkat?

Meerkat is a live streaming app that lets users broadcast video from a smartphone and connect with an online audience.

How does it work?

While live streaming may not be a new concept, Meerkat makes it easier to do than many of its predecessors. The app was designed to link with a user's Twitter account, allowing people to send messages to their followers to say they are about to start streaming. Time calls it the "video equivalent of a selfie". Viewers can then watch a broadcast and tweet replies that will pop up on the broadcaster's screen while they are videoing. Trusted Reviews describes the app as "the next logical progressive step from Twitter".

Why is it a success?

Meerkat picks up on a number of current trends in social media, Trusted Reviews says, such as the fashion for "ephemeral social apps" like SnapChat. Once a live stream finishes, it is instantly erased, giving Meerkat broadcasters the sense that their video can be as discursive and unpolished as they wish.

Meerkat was also designed to integrate easily with social networks people already use, specifically: Twitter.

How has Twitter reacted?

On Friday, Twitter blocked Meerkat's access to its social graph – the data that allows apps to see who follows who, The Guardian reports. "Without access to the graph, it's impossible for Meerkat to offer the service it previously did, automatically following all of a user's friends from Twitter who are also on the app". Without this function, Meerkat users no longer have an instant audience when they sign up, so they could be broadcasting to no one at all.

Why did Twitter block Meerkat?

Tech analysts say that it is most likely Twitter blocked the new app because it is getting ready to launch its own social broadcasting service. The popular social network recently bought a service called Periscope, which does the same thing as Meerkat, for a reported sum of $100 million.

So will Meerkat now die?

According to Meerkat's founder, Ben Rubin, Twitter's block is a "speed hump" rather than a death sentence. "We never wanted to build a graph on top of Twitter," Rubin said at South by South West. "We definitely knew that Twitter would be upset at some point. We didn't know that Twitter would buy in another company in the space, [nor] that they would do it so soon.

"It's just a little bit harder for us to build a community around new users", Ruben added, "[But] we've already put some solutions in place."

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