Can we all agree that Periscope is a sad train wreck? I think we can.**
I was on vacation last week. I checked Twitter on Wednesday, saw that CoLab had tweeted that they were broadcasting XpoWednesday LIVE! on Periscope, and didn’t consider for even one second wasting data clicking the link.
No reflection on CoLab or XpoWednesday…it is just that watching anything on Periscope is boring and painful. Meerkat isn’t any better. The technology promises to put you LIVE! in the experience, but it doesn’t and can’t.
The problem is one of curation. A live feed is inherently boring.
Consider this anecdote about airbnb: when they first launched, they had real trouble attracting users. And what they realized after soliciting feedback is that the site was unappealing because all the posts of available lodgings featured poor quality cell phone photos. So, they took a chance and hired professional photographers to go around and photograph available places. A few multi-billion dollar valuations later, that gamble seems to have paid off.
At the time, though, hiring professional photographers could have appeared like throwing good money after bad. Which is to say, airbnb sucked and pouring more money into that “bad” idea was sort of crazy. Yet, it worked. Not because the concept or technology got better, but because the content did.
The analog to Periscope? Actually, there isn’t one. Sorry, Periscope, your technology isn’t worthwhile. Because what is needed to save Periscope is an editing suite to merge multiple live streams into one coherent whole. We call that “television.” And while live streaming is cheap and boring, live television is compelling but hella expensive, y’all. That expense doesn’t come in to the equation because of the technology, it is because you need talented professionals to do the editing, in real time. Talented professionals are precisely the people cut out of amateur live streaming.
So why this discussion? Because I think it illustrates a really simple, basic (and you would think obvious) truth of the new online economy we find ourselves navigating like Vasco da Gama, with confidence and purpose yet without certainty as to exactly where it is we are going to end up. If you want to make it, your content MUST be either wanted or needed, and it must be good.
It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that Periscope does such a bad job providing a good version of something people want (a live experience) given its association with Twitter, considering Twitter’s bad job of providing a good version of something people need (a real-time news outlet).
“Need” is an elastic term, but think about IMDb. IMDb is the gold standard, a site everyone uses and treats practically like a like a public utility. You’ve got a question about who was in a movie? You go to IMDb. You don’t go anywhere else. Ever. They are accurate and reliable and everyone knows where to go. Easy. They provide exactly the service you need for the specific purpose for which they exist.
Compare that to Periscope. Why would you open Periscope? That is not a rhetorical question. You go to IMDb with a purpose in mind. You go to Facebook with a purpose (baby pictures and vacation pictures, amiright?). You go to Reddit with a purpose (kill time/learn weird shit). And then you visit those 10 different sites you check because they feature your other interests (ESPN for sports, Car and Driver if you are into cars, whatever…you know what your interests are).
Ok, so, why would you use Periscope? The promise is compelling live content — in a nutshell, whatever you click on should be interesting. However, the reality is almost NOTHING on Periscope is interesting, and even those events that could be interesting are poorly shot and have bad sound quality.
Some people might say YouTube started out with bad quality content and turned out pretty okay, and they’d be right, but the technology already existed before the site launched to create good content, e.g. editing software. You can’t make live content “good” in the moment without a trained team of editing professionals. You know, like tv.
A really interesting comparison is to Twitch. Twitch is also a live streaming platform, but with a built-in content advantage: video games. There are millions of gamers around the globe, whereas all the streamers on Periscope who broadcast the contents of their refrigerators (really, that is a thing) have no built in audience at all.
Nobody wants this product.
And that is why I wanted to write about it. Sadly, there are a number of start-ups locally that are facing this problem. There isn’t any need to name names. But there is a need for soul searching. These local guys don’t have API problems or UI problems, they have “why?” problems. “Why would anyone visit your site or use your service?” is a much more clarifying question for a start-up than “Is there an unmet need?” Even if you are correct that there really is a need, that doesn’t mean the product you hope to build is going to properly address it.
Took me almost a thousand words to come around to the point…maybe I’m a bit too polite. I don’t want to just come out and say, “hey bro, everything you’ve been working on is kinda shitty.” So I’ve illustrated the point with a big dumb startup far away from us. The idea that if you build something “cool” people will show up just isn’t true; there are simply too many options out there. Cool is a starting point, not a destination.
**So, in an interesting twist, just an hour after I originally posted this, I got some feedback from a regular reader letting me know that she sometimes enjoys watching the occasional stream on Periscope, specifically from people working in television and radio. Let me therefore slightly revise my thesis: Periscope can be used to some decent effect by media professionals, especially when supplementing their other media efforts, like a radio host broadcasting what is going on live in studio. It can be done. However, that isn’t the norm and is in fact a very small, very specific subset of streams.