Meerkat founder: “The novelty of livestreaming wears off”

Video livestreaming app Meerkat is the tech world’s latest darling, but its co-founder isn’t so sure it will outlast the hype.

If you missed the initial Meerkat news wave, here’s a quick overview: It lets you livestream video of whatever you’re doing from your phone whether you’re riding a roller coaster, walking to work, or watching the sunset. I’ve pulled hair out over the challenges of livestreaming video, even with a professional encoding box, so I can tell you that’s some impressive technology.

TechCrunch called it “the livestreaming app Twitter should have built.” Business Insider explained why people are “going crazy” over the app. GeekWire says it makes Twitter “oh so much more fun.” The Wall Street Journal has already written up its backstory.

And although Rubin’s enjoying the coverage, he’s not convinced it will last.

“People get excited by the novelty of live streaming, but it wears off,” Meerkat CEO Ben Rubin cautioned me on Skype from Israel. He motioned his hands in a roller coaster shape while saying, “I’ve seen my product go through word of mouth before and I’ve seen it wear off. I know what that feels like in a week.”

It’s rare that a founder undersells their product’s longevity even as it takes over the tech media consciousness. But Rubin watched the first version of this product, called Yevvo, spread rapidly in places as disparate as South America and Michigan after launching in August 2013. Just as quickly as it caught people’s attention, it died out.

“I’m hearing ‘Don’t believe the hype’ in loops in my head,” Rubin said. Just because everyone signs up for a product doesn’t mean it will continue to grow (See: Ello, Secret, Yo). It can be tough to tell what will stick around.

Although Yevvo may have struggled to sustain people’s interest, perhaps things will be different for the company this time around. For one thing, Meerkat is deeply integrated with Twitter, so your followers know when you go live, tapping into that viral effect.

For another thing, Meerkat allows people to schedule upcoming livestreams. Rubin thinks this feature could be the make-or-break element to keeping people engaged. It lets Twitter followers prepare and teaches wannabe livestreamers to think more carefully about their strategy.

“Introducing scheduling makes it very interesting,” Rubin explained. “When’s the next time you’re going to do something awesome?” Someone might think twice about a boring desk-bound livestream if they’re planning it in advance.

Aside from longevity concerns, Meerkat is dealing with growing pain problems, like Twitter temporarily shutting down its API access and then reversing the decision. “I’m not naïve,” Rubin said, when I asked whether he was worried Twitter could shut down Meerkat’s API access for good. “I’m sure they’ve built in something, I’m sure they’re working on something. They have to be.”

One day later, news broke that Twitter was in talks to acquire a Meerkat competitor. It’s the last piece of news a rival startup wants to hear, but Rubin is trying not to worry. “I don’t see them doing something nasty, but they might and that’s ok,” he said. “We’re just having fun. We’ll see how it goes.” If Twitter blocked the app, there’s other social networks Meerkat could consider trying to build on top of. Rubin thinks Yik Yak would make the most sense since its real-time nature fits live video.

In short, Meerkat is potentially battling two formidable foes: The fast, hype cycle of tech and Twitter. The obstacles loom large, and the Meerkat team clearly hasn’t forgotten that.

They do have one thing going for them though: They’ve failed at this before.

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