Periscope app: Good news for voyeurs - but is video streaming any more worthy of our attention?

Periscope is an app launched by Twitter that facilitates live video streaming from your smartphone

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The Independent Tech

There's something about election campaigns that makes us more doubtful of the information put in front of us. Last week, just as I'd decided to adopt a permanent expression of Paxmanesque incredulity, I was informed that "the future of broadcasting is Periscope". Periscope is an app, launched by Twitter, that facilitates live video streaming from your smartphone. A smaller competitor, Meerkat, got in there first about a month ago; the buzz surrounding that was similarly overwhelming. "Meerkating is becoming a verb," said The New York Times, in a desperate attempt to turn "Meerkating" into a verb.

It's a wearisome, repetitive pattern: a new type of app achieves some short-term success and is seen as a revolution, but it ultimately becomes a damp squib. (Secret? Yo? Draw Something?) Is video streaming in 2015 any more worthy of our attention? Its power and reach is certainly formidable; in fact, the apps are so easy to use that you're forced to consider a more crucial question: what on earth do you do with it? (The first Periscope meme has been to show the contents of your fridge – a convenient fallback when you run out of things to say or do, which tends to be very quickly indeed.)

We can be narcissistic creatures, and technology persistently tries to fulfil our desire to be seen. That doesn't mean we're doing anything worth seeing – but the idea of what's "worth seeing" is changing, too. You only have to look at the videos of the most popular stars on YouTube to see that mundane content can bring in huge audiences; if the success of Periscope and Meerkat is sustained, it may have nothing whatsoever to do with "the future of broadcasting" and more to do with the way they permit voyeuristic peeps into the lives of other human beings.

On a purely technological level, there are problems with both apps. Meerkat has been badly affected by Twitter restricting its access to its "social graph", which lets users find friends and link up with them. Periscope has the opposite problem, which is sheer numbers; that may level off in time, but at the moment, it's flooded with people showing you their knees while mumbling, and sexist morons typing "nice ass" at any woman who dares to show her trousers to the camera. These problems are surmountable; the question is whether we'll still care in six months' time.

Twitter.com/rhodri

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