Meerkat is the biggest hit at SXSW

The new app that live-streams video via Twitter is extremely popular, and Twitter is taking notice.

Meerkat SXSWMeerkat SXSWA Meerkat user uses the app to send a live streaming video of a Nas concert at the SXSW festival to his Twitter followers. (Photo: Anthony Quintano / Flickr)

Here's what you need to know about Meerkat, the iPhone app that seems to have come out of nowhere and been all the talk of the app world – and now, Austin's South By Southwest (SXSW) festival – over the last two weeks:

  • It was created by Ben Rubin, a 27-year-old former architecture student who is originally from Israel.
  • It allows people to stream live video to their Twitter followers. In other words, while you are using your phone or tablet to video something, whether it's a speech or a party or just you talking into the camera, your followers see it after about a 15-second delay. It's the first app to connect live video streaming to Twitter.
  • It's only been around for a couple of weeks but already has more than 150,000 users.
  • It's caught the eye of the folks at Twitter, who, in a move that was expected by Rubin and his investors, cut off access to its "social graph" over the weekend. In other words, users now have to manually create a follower list instead of automatically pushing videos to all of their Twitter followers. Why? Because Twitter is likely going to launch its own live video app soon.

Meerkat app (Photo: Meerkat)

That last item would have seemed like a setback, but the app's user base grew by 30 percent since Twitter intervened. "After a lot of experimentation, we’ve landed upon an experience that resonates," Rubin wrote on

Is Meerkat the next big thing in social media? Maybe, maybe not. But the idea of live-streaming video to social media followers is one that will be around for a long time.

"Meerkat looks to harness the strength of a user's Twitter network but add an incredibly unique communication: real-time video," Nicholas Bowman, an assistant professor of communication studies at West Virginia University who specializes in tech issues, told From The Grapevine. "That is a very important step in realizing the Web 2.0 notion of 'create and collaborate' – the program serves to shift us from being live bloggers to live broadcasters." 

While he thinks there will be more users than broadcasters on the platform, he said "there is a good synergy between Twitter's ability to connect us with new people, and Meerkat's ability to tap those people on the shoulder when we have something really important – at least to us – to share."

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