It’s been an incredibly exciting few weeks as the world comes to hear more about the latest category of social sharing — live mobile video. (Disclosure: we have been bullish on this space since our investment last year in YouNow.) Given that we have had the pleasure of observing this phenomenon for a bit, I thought I would share a few thoughts.

It’s Not Broadcasting, it’s a conversation

Many people are calling these live video feeds “broadcasts” which presume they are one-to-many and are one-way. The internet has taught us that all media must be participatory now. We all have an expectation that we are not just observers, but that our voices as viewers must be part of the content itself. From likes to comments, the web is built on the “post-respond” engagement model. For any of these apps to be successful, they must engender engagement. And to be engaging, the viewer must be a participant in some way. In YouNow “broadcasts”, the chatting audience is as much a part of the content as the “broadcaster”. This is what leads to successful long-term engagement.

utility vs. platform

Meerkat launched as a livestreaming utility built atop the Twitter network. Like Bit.ly and Twitpic before it, Meerkat itself is not a platform. One does not browse Meerkat to find content, one waits for announcements in the Twitter stream. If they are useful, utilities for social networks very quickly get absorbed into the platform as a core function, leaving no room for third parties. We saw that with link shortening and image hosting, and now we are seeing it with Periscope.

However, much like YouNow, Periscope is more of a network. It uses your existing Twitter graph to build your Periscope graph, but ultimately users will prune and grow their Periscope graph to look very differently than their Twitter follow graph. The Periscope app includes some (limited) forms of content browsing. I expect, given what happened to Meerkat, and with the very talented Josh Ellman as a board member, they will quickly move in the platform direction. Platforms are much more valuable and more sustainable than utilities.

native media format

All successful social networks have a native content form to them in which users become expert. There is a form to a great Facebook post (baby and party pics), a great Tweet (witty observation and link to interesting news), a great Instagram pic (beach and sky pics with awesome filters), a Vine vid (successful loop), etc. So too with live video streams. We can see it on YouNow, as users become expert at creating engaging performances and successfully interact with (and involve) their audiences. I expect we will see the same with Periscope streams (just not yet. Give it time.)

I really think the promise of these products is in creating more conversations between creator and consumer, rather than being millions of new cameras for livecasting the world. It’s tempting to think of this in terms of crowd-sourced news-gathering, which is a compelling use case, for sure. But the web has taught us that social media must be interactive to be successful. Sure, it will be supercool to watch Mario Batalli cook in his kitchen. But that’s the TV model. Unless he personally interacts with his audience (and is really good at it), I don’t think it is web native enough to work. So I suspect the winning formats for all of these products are the ones which are most participatory.