What do apps like Meerkat mean for coverage of conflict?

meerkat

In the weeks since its release, live video streaming app ‘Meerkat’ has taken off at a significant rate of knots. Despite being the new kid on the block, the app has raised some interesting questions surrounding the possibilities of live streaming video from a portable device.

My first Meerkat experience, watching a stream of a guy in a South Korean taxi.

How does it work?

By integrating with Twitter, the Meerkat app allows for users to find live streams easily through the search of ‘#meerkat’, then redirecting the user back to the application in order to view the stream. By having the option to automatically add ‘#meerkat’ to the end of every stream they post, users have a way of sharing their stream with the world. A variety of tools help facilitate a feedback loop when watching the live video, allowing for users to post comments, favourite and retweet the stream. Unfortunately, Twitter has already disabled Meerkats ability to access its social graph, meaning that instead of automatically following your Twitter list and vice versa, users now need to follow each other independently  through the app itself.

Coverage of conflict

The possibilities offered by live mobile video streaming are seemingly endless. It is something so conceptually different from what is considered normal that it is effectively a paradigm shift in how we can receive up-to-date information. As media consumers we are now presented with the option of tapping into to a live feed presented by an individual. Given the popularity of conflict videos currently uploaded to hosting sites such as YouTube and Liveleak, there is definite potential for applications like Meerkat to gain a wide user base.

The total number of number of smartphones sold across the middle east for example, has risen significantly in recent years, partly due to a decrease in smartphone prices. This reduced cost of access means that more users than ever have the potential to be a part of the network. More users equals greater potential members of the live video stream community, which means an increase in volumes of footage shared. When this content is collected in aggregate and sifted through by the vast cognitive surplus of other willing individuals in the network itself, there is potential to discover a greater depth of knowledge and a better understanding of the events taking place.

It could be argued that real-time video streaming applications such as Meerkat take us one step closer to finally realising the illusion of direct access currently offered by platforms such as YouTube and Twitter. Combatants, bystanders and viewers all have the chance to interact with and remould content that is created surrounding an area of conflict. While the Meerkat application doesn’t allow for outsiders to record a stream, up and coming challengers such as ‘Periscope‘ are rumoured to do so. Recording live footage and then re uploading the content is a definite possibility, with users (hopefully) soon to be given the opportunity to decide which parts of streams they wish to record. This brings media consumers yet another step closer to the action.

Consequences

“Terrorist and criminal organisations are increasingly taking advantage of new information technologies to realise the full potential of highly decentralised, networked designs.” – Arquilla &Ronfeldt, 1996.

While apps like Meerkat have the ability to drastically change how we receive live coverage of an event, they also help to empower the other side. Communication loops between users are drastically shortened, allowing for an an increase to the frequency at which decisions are made. Applications that facilitate ‘live’ coverage improve the adaptability of all groups to a situation. Networked organisations can not only co-ordinate attacks but also adapt quickly to threats, using the content shared over a live video streaming application as a guide for how to act. It is important to remember that ad hoc insurgent groups have already used the Internet as an effective communicative tool up to now, so there is no reason why applications such as Meerkat will escape their reach.

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