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Tech Talk

The dream ends for Meerkat

3/16/2016

Not everyone gets to work his or her dream job. Generations of children went through years of school dreaming of becoming an author. They read every book they could get their hands on and earned degrees in English from their favorite liberal arts colleges — only to work in financial services, insurance or teach. If there is any consolation, it’s that people are not alone in falling short of their dreams. Businesses, too, can stop short of the promised land. For a recent example, look no further than Meerkat.Meerkat Logo

A year ago, Meerkat was the hottest app in social media video broadcasting. Users downloaded the app to an iOS device, linked the service with their Twitter and Facebook feeds, and then broadcast live video from wherever they were via Wi-Fi or cellular data plan. Meerkat rocketed from complete obscurity to millions of users within a month. As if that wasn’t enough, at the March 2015 South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) conference, Meerkat was the talk of the town. The application got so hot that Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad started using it to broadcast his weekly press conference. It seemed every mobile user, developer, venture capitalist and tech reporter was singing the praises of Meerkat. And if previous SXSW success indicated anything, Meerkat was in for a stratospheric climb in user count and mobile relevance.

But then something funny happened at the height of its notoriety: Meerkat’s dreams of social media superstardom were usurped. Periscope, ostensibly a carbon copy of Meerkat, was acquired by Twitter and immediately brought to the forefront of the average social media user’s attention. Whereas Meerkat had to claw its way onto the phones of early adopters and push its way into the limelight of SXSW, Periscope built a more user-friendly application and charmed the social media elite in bringing it to scale.

Suddenly the dream that was inches away from becoming Meerkat’s reality was ripped away and handed to Periscope. Twitter cut off Meerkat’s access to user accounts, and within a moment’s hesitation, millions of users emigrated from Meerkat to Periscope. Now, adding insult to injury, Facebook is rolling out its own live streaming service to users dubbed Facebook Live. Between Twitter’s 300 million users and Facebook’s 1.2 billion, there simply isn’t enough room in the sandbox for Meerkat to play.

Sadly, less than a year from its SXSW coming out party, Meerkat has announced its plan to abandon live streaming and pivot to a hybrid service of social networking and video conferencing. Pivot is one of the most bittersweet words in business; it means surrendering to the whim of the marketplace and moving on from an initial goal while retaining a touch of dignity.

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Pivoting is a parachute of sorts for the startup industry of technology. Foursquare, at one time a goliath of location-based social networking, has been trying to pivot for more than a year to a social Yelp-like service. Sony, once the king of premium media electronics, decided in the early 2000s to pivot to consumer-grade device making and is now attempting to pivot back to premium status. Even Twitter, the original SXSW tech champion, is enduring a minor crisis of user abandonment and is looking to pivot to something beyond microblogging.

Still, the concern is that pivoting is not easy, and in many cases, looks desperate. Sony, Twitter and Foursqaure are at varying stages of sink or swim mode. It is obvious Meerkat wants to continue swimming, but there’s no guarantee it won’t sink before achieving the dream of social media nobility. CV

Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.

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