To get a sense of why Periscope has come to be regarded as the buzzy new social app of the moment, a good place to start might be with the habits of regular “scopers” like Rosie Brown.
Brown (@rosiebrownuk) is a friendly, socially active British expat who now calls Melbourne home, and part of her daily routine involves pulling out her smartphone regularly to broadcast via Twitter-owned Periscope to her friends as well as to perfect strangers around the world. Her sessions usually include showing highlights of the places she goes and the things she does over the course of a day, things like drinking with friends, strolling through the city, and visiting its myriad iconic sites.
The key thing that’s become clear to Periscope users like her who’ve flocked to the service — which is growing fast, having just passed 1 million Android downloads in recent days after launching earlier on iOS — is that such sessions can make possible the sort of personal, almost face-to-face encounter that Twitter’s short-burst messaging platform can’t really replicate. “Where are you all from?” Brown will generally ask her audience towards the start of each of her broadcasts. It’s the kind of thing that’s a prelude to more personal interactions with users she sees come in to her stream, users who’ve responded to Brown by tapping their screens enough times to give her more than 1 million hearts — Periscope’s equivalent of a Facebook “like.”
Here’s one reason interactions like those, multiplied across the entirety of the service, are important. No less than Twitter investor Chris Sacca — an inveterate scoper himself — thinks Periscope offers a model of sorts for how its parent company can overcome the growing pains it’s wrestling with at the moment.
In the lengthy essay he posted online earlier this month offering his reflections on the state of Twitter – whose CEO Dick Costolo is on his way out as the company tries to figure out what to do next — Sacca, of course, didn’t specifically mention Brown or her fellow scopers by name. But he did say, as part of his argument that Twitter needs to go all-in on owning live experiences, that snatching up Periscope may prove to be the best deal Twitter has ever done. “The only thing more live than Periscope,” Sacca wrote, “is being there in person.”
Indeed, listen to how Brown and a few other users BGR encountered on a recent weekday talk about Periscope, and see if it doesn’t sound like the way a certain short-burst messaging service was likewise talked about in its early days:
“I downloaded Periscope out of curiosity when browsing the App Store,” Brown tells BGR. “In the first 5 minutes of browsing, I had walked the Golden Gate Bridge, witnessed a woman eat a crayon and had dinner and wine with a Swedish family. Periscope became a chocolate box of travel and meeting new people, and I soon wondered where it had been all my life.
“I had recently quit my job in London, so I had some time on my hands to start broadcasting as a hobby. I started showing people around London, the English countryside and sharing my story about my upcoming move to Australia.”
For one of her early broadcasts, she and her sister drove to Highclere Castle (the setting of Downtown Abbey) to broadcast on Periscope. Only two people tuned in, but she decided to stick with it anyway.
Sticking with it can feel daunting for both the broadcaster and the streamer, especially since for newcomers to the service it’s not necessarily clear from the outset who a person should follow.
Daniel Cintra, another enthusiastic scoper, heads product and business efforts at Dextro, a venture -backed computer vision company with an app to help users make sense of the Periscope firehose. The company helps users comb through all the streams to find the specific thing they’re looking for, and it does that via an app that groups Periscope sessions into categories.
The app presents those global streams by relying in part on the scopers who also announce their sessions on Twitter.
“I spend a lot of time perusing Periscope and really enjoy it,” said Cintra, (@dlcintra). “Based on my experience, I liken it to Instagram, in that it’s the least amount of effort on the users’ part. That’s what I really like about it. Something like Twitter, you have to really choose your words, think more carefully.”
Over in Tuscon, KGUN9-TV anchor/reporter Liz Kotalik (@lizkotalik) generally scopes all three hours of her morning show Monday through Friday. She loves the service – and sees value in it – for reasons similar to Brown and Cintra.
At the anchor desk, Kotalik is first visible on Periscope usually having just laid her phone down, switched on the stream and given a wave to the viewers who quickly come pouring in. She might then adjust some papers on her desk, finalize her appearance and then lean in for some quick hellos before she’s on air reading the news.
In between her time on air, she’ll lean in to the phone at her side and engage with the audience that’s been watching her deliver the news.
“Since I’ve started using Periscope, people have told me that these local and national live streams have made them finally interested in news,” Kotalik said. “Along with what we report on air, I also answer Periscope viewers’ questions about the stories I’m reading, and try to add additional details to reports that may be more complicated or have other interesting facts. I think the added ‘personal’ side to all of this makes taking the news in more comfortable for some people and less daunting.
“Watching Periscopers respond to the stories we report on our show and then engage with each other about current events has been so rewarding, and I haven’t experienced anything like that on any other platform.”
Perhaps Twitter could learn something from experiences like these.
Don’t chase the algorithmic filtering of Facebook, in other words, as it seems Twitter is increasingly looking to do to compete with its massively bigger rival. Instead, reorient the architecture of the service so that it’s easier to feel like you’re having a one-on-one moment with an Aussie who’s going for drinks with friends or a broadcaster in between live shots who’s explaining what’s coming up next – moments that feels close to actually being there.