App review: Meerkat

The other day is saw a discussion about whether Meerkat will or won’t last. Meerkat is a simple video app which lets people stream live to their Twitters. It launched about two weeks ago and has been talked about (and used) a lot since. Let’s do a quick review of the app:

  1. How did the app come to my attention? – Simple. My wife told me about Meerkat about a week ago. I also came across the app on ProductHunt.
  2. My quick summary of the app (before using it) – This app lets me stream live to my Twitter follows.
  3. How does the app explain itself in the first minute? – The first time I open the app, there’s a screen that introduces Meerkat’s ‘rules of conduct’, explaining that “Everything that happens on Meerkat, happens on Meerkat” and thus making it clear that my Meerkat recordings will be shared on Twitter (see Fig. 1 below).
  4. How does the app explain itself in the first minute – The Meerkat login screen says “Tweet Live Video”, which clearly suggests that I’ll be able to tweet live video streams. At the top of my personalised screen I see a text field which says “Write what’s happening …” with two big calls to action – “schedule” and “stream” – underneath (see Fig. 2 below). I’m not quite clear about what will happen when I write something in the text box, or what to expect when I click on “schedule” or “stream”. Nor am I clear on why certain posts appear under the “upcoming” header; I’ve got three upcoming streams from Index Ventures in there, but I don’t understand where these posts have come from. Are they based on Twitter accounts that I follow or are they just placeholders to deal with an initial ‘cold start’ problem? Also, I know I’m not a designer but the light grey font used for the “upcoming” header doesn’t work particularly well against a dark grey background in my opinion.
  5. Getting started, what’s the process like – I type in “Playing with Meerkat” (see Fig. 3 below) and then click on “schedule” to put in a time that works for me (see Fig. 4 below). Et voila, a tweet announces my live stream and off we go (see Fig. 5 below).
  6. How easy to use was the app? – Fairly easy. I guess I personally could have done with a bit more to better understand how Meerkat works and perhaps see some examples of other live streams. For people like me who don’t do video that frequently or who are who conscious of the things they share on Twitter, a bit more context on the app would be helpful. For instance, I can see on the Meerkat leaderboard that Nir Eyal, who I know and trust, is an avid Meerkat user (see Fig. 6 below). It would be good to see some of Nir’s video streams directly from the app.
  7. How does the app compare to similar apps?Qik, which is now part of Skype, and Periscope, which is currently in private Beta are similar to Meerkat in a sense that enable live video streaming from a multitude of devices. It will be interesting to see what Periscope will look like when it goes live and to learn how easy to use the app is in comparison to Meerkat.
  8. Did the app deliver on my expectations? – Yes. The app is simple – perhaps a bit too simple in places – and does exactly what it says on the tin, nothing more and nothing less.

Main learning point: It will be interesting to see what Meerkat’s usage is like once the current hype has subsided and once competitors like Periscope have entered the fray. The app is easy to use, but I feel it could yet do more in terms of its explanatory interface and enabling users to discover content. Considering that this is only the first release of Meerkat, it feels like a good and effective product.

Fig. 1 – Screenshot of the Meerkat screen which introduces the Rules of Meerkat

Meerkat 1

 

Fig. 2 – Screenshot of my personalised screen on Meerkat 

Meerkat 2

Fig. 3 – Screenshot of my personalised screen on Meerkat after I’ve typed in something in the free text field

Meerkat A

Fig. 4 – Scheduling my live video stream via the Meerkat app

Meerkat 5

Fig. 5 – Screenshot of my tweet announcing my live video stream on Meerkat to my Twitter followers

Meerkat B

Fig. 6 – Screenshot of the leaderboard on the Meerkat app 

Meerkat C

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://quibb.com/links/on-meerkat-and-why-it-won-t-last
  2. http://www.theverge.com/2015/3/9/8164893/meerkat-live-video-streaming-twitter-yevvo-periscope
  3. http://www.producthunt.com/posts/meerkat
  4. http://www.wsj.com/articles/twitter-acquires-live-video-streaming-startup-periscope-1425938498
  5. http://hunterwalk.com/2015/03/14/meerkat-the-value-of-slow-graphs/

What to expect from iOS 8?

Last week, Apple spent a large part of its keynote at WWDC 2014 talking about iOS 8, its new operating system for its handheld devices. These are the main features that we can look forward to as part of iOS 8:

  1. Touch ID – Apple’s “Touch ID” fingerprint recognition system is currently only available on iPhone 5S but will now be integrated into iOS 8 and will become available on more Apple devices. Instead of having to remember lots of different passwords, with Touch ID users will now be able to complete transactions just using their fingerprints (see screenshot in Fig. 1 below). In addition, with iOS 8 there is a likelihood that users will be able to scan credit cards via an iPhone or iPad camera and automatically fill in their details as part of an online shopping transaction.
  2. Handoff – With Apple’s “Handoff”, users will be able to switch seamlessly between devices; one can start watching something on an iPhone and then continue watching on an iPad, without any overlap or lag (see Fig. 2 below). Another important aspect of Handoff is the inclusion of the Mac, Apple’s desktop, and the notion that the desktop operating system can now talk to an Apple mobile operating system without any friction. For example, it means that when you start working on a document on a desktop, you can easily resume working on the document on your mobile, without having to delve into different folders, etc.
  3. Interactive Notifications – iOS 8 will include new interactive notifications which will allow users to reply to text messages or accept calendar invites without leaving the app that they are in. These new interactive notifications can be invoked from their temporary banner that appears at the top, as well as on the lock screen (see Fig. 3 below).
  4. Health – At last week’s WWDC, Apple presented it’s new Health app and a developer focused Healthkit API. The Health app effectively aggregates all your health and fitness data, irrespective of the apps that you use to generate this data. Examples of popular fitness/health apps are Fitbit are FitStar and their data can be aggregated into a secure dashboard on your Apple smartphone or tablet (see Fig. 4 below). With the Healthkit API, developers can start integrating the data of health/fitness apps with Apple’s Health app.
  5. HomeKit – With the “Homekit”, Apple is taking a firm leaf out of Nest‘s book. Nest is all about creating a connected home and which home products are designed to learn from user behaviour (I wrote about Nest earlier in the year). The technology which underpins Apple’s HomeKit is very complex, but in essence it covers one or more ‘Homes’, with different ‘Rooms’ within the Home. For example, you can have a room called “Master Bathroom” in your Home and you can have two distinct actions which you can trigger through Siri, Apple’s voice command technology: (1) closing the bathroom door and (2) turning on/off the bathroom light.

Main learning point: Apple has introduced some interesting features as part of it’s new iOS 8 operating system for its handheld devices. Perhaps the least sexy one out off all these features, but the “Handoff” connectivity feature is a really critical one as it will enable users to seamlessly switch between Apple devices and desktop. If I were to go for ‘sexy’, then Apple’s forthcoming Health app is probably the most exciting, both from a user perspective and from a data aggregation perspective.

Fig. 1 – Screenshot of Touch ID integration into Mint app (taken from: http://www.techradar.com/news/phone-and-communications/mobile-phones/ios-8-10-things-we-want-to-see-1166133)

touch-id-mint-470-75

Fig. 2 – Apple’s Craig Federighi presents Apple Continuity for Mac OS at WWDC ’14 on 2 June ’14 (taken from: CNET News, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qe5h4to5FXo)

Fig. 3 – Screenshot of Apple’s Interactive Notifications (taken from: http://www.iphonehacks.com/2014/06/apple-ios-8.html)

interactive-notifications1-1024x605

Fig. 4 – Screenshot of the dashboard function of Apple’s Health app (taken from: https://www.apple.com/ios/ios8/health/)

health_screen_healthdata

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://www.theverge.com/2014/6/9/5792970/ios-8-strikes-an-unexpected-blow-against-location-tracking
  2. http://www.techradar.com/news/phone-and-communications/mobile-phones/ios-8-10-things-we-want-to-see-1166133
  3. http://techcrunch.com/2014/06/02/apple-touch-id/
  4. http://www.zdnet.com/parade-of-apps-to-leverage-touch-id-7000030219/
  5. https://www.apple.com/ios/ios8/continuity/
  6. http://mashable.com/2014/06/02/apple-ios-8/
  7. http://appleinsider.com/articles/14/06/02/apple-unveils-ios-8-with-interactive-notifications-quicktype-keyboard-group-text-enhancements
  8. http://www.cnet.com/uk/news/why-handoff-was-the-most-important-feature-announced-at-wwdc/
  9. http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/apple-launches-home-kit-for-connected-home
  10. http://www.slashgear.com/heres-how-apple-ios-8-homekit-works-04332145/

Twitch and its appeal for Google and Microsoft

The other day, I heard about the rumoured takeover of Twitch by Google for the handsome amount of $1 billion. I have to be honest; up until that point I had never heard about Twitch. Reason enough to look into Twitch and a possible ratio for Google willing to spend such a large amount of cash on this startup:

  1. What is Twitch? – Twitch is a video streaming platform and a community for gamers. Geekwire describes Twitch as “the ESPN of the video game industry” and says Twitch is a leader in that space. Twitch has over 45 million monthly users and about 1 million members who upload videos each month. In a relatively short space of time (Twitch was launched in June 2011), Twitch has successfully created an online streaming platform for video games.
  2. Who use Twitch? – I’m not an avid video gamer myself, but browsing the Twitch website tells me that are in effect two main user roles, which are closely intertwined: game players and broadcasters. Clearly, you can be both and I’m sure that a lot of Twitch members fulfil both roles. One can play games on Twitch channels like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or World of Tanks or one can create their own pages from which you can broadcast games. A great example of Twitch’s success in engaging its community around a game is TwitchPlaysPokemon which has had over 78,000 people playing a game that turns chat comments into controller inputs, parsing hundreds of thousands of ups, downs, and starts and translating them into in-game movements.
  3. Why is Twitch such an interesting acquisition target? – Twitch is reported to have snubbed Microsoft’s takeover offer but is rumoured to have fallen for Google. This raises the question as to what makes Twitch such an interesting takeover target? I think that the answer can be split into two main factors. Firstly, scale. Twitch has a rapidly growing and very engaged user community who all share a passion for (video) gaming. Secondly, live broadcasting. Going back to the example of TwitchPlaysPokemon, Twitch streams games that get people excited and gets them participating in real-time. This simultaneous element is something that for instance YouTube is lacking. YouTube is great for on-demand video content, but (currently) less so for live event coverage or participation. The combination of both factors (as well as a very rich vein of user generated content and data) makes Twitch an extremely interesting target indeed.

Main learning point: Recently there have been some major takeover deals in the digital industry – think Instagram, WhatsApp and Beats – but the rumoured acquisition of Twitch by Google is interesting for a number of reasons. If I have to highlight one key reason, then synergy is the main aspect that makes this potential takeover sound like a very exciting one. How will Google potentially integrate YouTube and Twitch or at least find a way to combine both platforms? Will the acquisition of Twitch help YouTube in cracking the real-time broadcast element of its offering? Lets wait and see if the deal actually gets done in the first place, but if it does then I will definitely keep an eye out for any future developments involving Google, YouTube and Twitch.

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2014/05/28/why-youtube-buying-twitch-for-1-billion.aspx
  2. http://www.geekwire.com/2014/microsofts-xbox-shot-potential-twitch-buyer-matters/
  3. http://variety.com/2014/digital/news/youtube-to-acquire-videogame-streaming-service-twitch-for-1-billion-sources-1201185204/
  4. http://techcrunch.com/2014/05/27/tc-cribs-tours-twitch-tv-gaming-office-headquarters/
  5. http://thenextweb.com/insider/2014/05/29/twitch-now-lets-filter-counter-strike-global-offensive-game-streams-map-skill-level/
  6. http://thenextweb.com/google/2014/05/19/google-reportedly-wants-buy-video-streaming-service-twitch-1b-deal-boost-youtube/
  7. http://variety.com/2014/digital/news/why-google-wants-to-hitch-twitch-and-youtube-1201188093/
  8. http://www.theverge.com/2014/5/20/5734108/why-twitch-could-be-the-best-billion-google-ever-spends
  9. http://guardianlv.com/2014/02/twitch-live-broadcast-to-be-included-in-xbox-one/

Twitch

Fanhattan: cool name, but how does it work?

Intrigued by its cool sounding name, I wanted to find out more about Fanhattan. I then came across this demo by one of the founders of the service, which has been going for about a year now. In this demo, Gilles BianRosa (CEO) made it clear that Fanhattan is all about content and not about the individual apps that host films or TV shows.

As BianRosa explained, for the Fanhattan user it’s most and foremost about “what do I want to watch?” This means that as a user I will look for the content first and Fanhattan will subsequently present me with a range of services where I can access this content (think Netflix, iTunes and Amazon).

These are the main things that I learned about Fanhattan:

  1. It acts as a ‘content gateway’ – Rather than having to go into a specific app or service, Fanhattan enables you to look for the content you want to watch, after which it will let you know through which services you can access this content. The app is built in HTML5 which means it will fully support rich media like audio and video.
  2. It offers content in the broadest sense of the word – It’s a shame Fanhattan isn’t available in the UK yet, because I would love to have a closer look at all the features Fanhattan displays around a specific piece of content. Call me a geek but I would be very interested in seeing up close how Fanhattan display products or data related to “The Godfather” such as merchandising, the movie soundtrack, PG ratings, similar films recommendations and film info.
  3. It has a clear social element – As we know, digital content lends itself incredibly well to sharing with your friends and to friend recommendations. Fanhattan taps into this social discovery element by enabling its users to build a Taste Profile with the content they have watched, which they can easily share with friends. Similarly, if you like a film or TV show on Fanhattan this will automatically appear on your Facebook wall.
  4. It’s cross-platform – Being available on a number of platforms sounds like a no-brainer but Fanhattan has been following a (in my mind sensible) phased approach to rolling out on different platforms, with the iPhone being the latest addition. I understand that TV and game consoles are next on Fanhattan’s product roadmap.
  5. It’s cloud based – Because the content discovery element of Fanhattan is happening in the cloud, it should increase Fanhattan’s flexibility in displaying and storing (discovery) data and content.
  6. It has a flexible model – Users can either subscribe to Fanhattan (like you do for services like Spotify or Rdio) or pay Fanhattan for each transaction separately. It’s a shame no figures are publicly available on the uptake of Fanhattan as a subscription service vs. users paying for content on an ad-hoc basis.
Main learning point: I do see apps like Fanhattan playing an important role in the discovery of new content, acting as a user-friendly portal to a wide range of content-oriented services. At present, Fanhattan isn’t available in the UK; I’ll be keeping an eye out for Fanhattan or similar services rolling out on these shores. Will users warm up to the idea that you can use a single service to access the content? Will they move away from the likes of Lovefilm, Netflix or Amazon in favour of Fanhattan or a Spotify-like service focused on films/TV shows?

Related links for further learning: 

http://blog.fanhattan.com/2011/09/13/social-discovery-and-the-power-of-vudu/

http://techcrunch.com/2011/11/16/fanhattan-tv-discovery-app-migrates-to-the-iphone/

http://gigaom.com/video/fanhattan-takes-content-discovery-to-the-cloud/

http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-20025825-1.html

Learning about streaming, with Klip as a first case study

I’m currently trying to learn more about streaming in its various forms. Streaming is all about the delivery method of media such as audio, film or TV. There are basically two forms of streaming: live streaming and archived streaming.

With live streaming, you take the content and broadcast it live over the internet. It involves having a camera to capture the content, an encoder to digitise the content, a media publisher where the streams are made available to users and a Content Delivery Network to distribute and deliver the content. This way, the user is able to view an event live. Good examples of live streaming are live coverage on YouTube of an Arcade Fire concert at Madison Square Garden or people being able to view the first match of the FA Cup live on Facebook.

Archived streaming is more about ‘on-demand’ streaming (think BBC’s iPlayer and Lovefilm’s Player) or Marks & Spencer broadcasting a vodcast on food you can order for Christmas. The technology used to deliver this is fairly similar to live content, apart from the fact that the ‘content source’ for archived streaming can be as varied as a tape or an audio file.

I don’t think one has to be a great visionary to predict a great future for streaming, with a multitude of devices to stream video content to. A good, recent example of these bright prospects is Klip, a mobile video app that lets you share video content with your friends. These are the reasons this service caught my attention:

  1. It’s the highest ranked social video app in the App store – Klip is an iOs (as in ‘Apple only’) app that lets users view, capture, share and discover video on their iPhone. Other examples of social video apps are Rounds, Vlix and Socialcam.
  2. High quality video streaming – A key aim for Klip is to provide the highest quality video streaming around for mobile device. You simply shoot a new ‘Klip’ or grab one from your Klip Camera Roll and share it with the Klip community, your friends on Facebook, Twitter, on your YouTube channel, or by email.
  3. Underlying technology – Even though I’m not a techie, it will be interesting to find out more about the underlying Klip technology that enables users to swipe a video for a preview. The video will then play at the accelerated speed at which you move your finger across the video. If you shake the phone, all the videos will begin playing on the page.
  4. Adaptive streaming – I learnt that because mobile bandwidth can be unreliable, Klip includes adaptive video streaming which means that it automatically adjusts the quality of the video streaming based on a user’s mobile network conditions.
  5. Cloud component – The sharing on Klip is done around hashtags so that users can easily surface and find content by topic or event. Big on Klip’s product roadmap is the cloud component in its technology, enabling users to search and index hashtags in realtime.

Main learning point: Good to learn more about streaming. The term is often used very loosely and distinguishing between live and archived streaming feels like a good starting point. There will be more examples to follow, but Klip is an interesting one since its aim is to achieve the highest quality streaming as well as encouraging its users to really interact with its content.


Related links for further learning:

http://techcrunch.com/2011/11/18/benchmark-leads-8m-round-in-mobile-video-sharing-app-klip/

http://youtube-global.blogspot.com/2011/04/youtube-is-going-live.html

http://www.wiliam.com.au/wiliam-blog/there-are-two-types-of-streaming-media-live-and-archived

http://www.iabuk.net/en/1/onlinevideoadvertisingcasestudies.html

http://blog.klip.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adaptive_bitrate_streaming

How robust will Netflix’ business model turn out to be? – Part 3

Just as I thought that the Netflix saga had come to an end with my blog post a few weeks ago (in which I wrote about Nextflix’ CEO Reed Hastings’ announcement to split the business into two separate units), the story has taken another twist. Last week, Netflix reversed its decision to split its business into two parts, streaming (Netflix) and DVD rental (Qwikster) and became a single unit again.

In a very succinct blog post, CEO Reed Hastings wrote: “It is clear that for many of our members two websites would make things more difficult, so we are going to keep Netflix as one place to go for streaming and DVDs” but he did not offer any further explanations as to his reasons why.

What could those reasons be? Let me just speculate for a minute:

  1. Reed Hastings is speaking the truth – Netflix users genuinely struggled to have to use two different sites. Call me cynical, but surely a problem of this nature would have come to light in early stage user testing or forum groups?
  2. Too much change in one go – Perhaps the pace with which Hastings wanted to introduce business change was simply too high for most Netflix users. An official Netflix statement read: “We underestimated the appeal of the single Web site and a single service.” Nevertheless, make no mistake, online streaming does remain Netflix’ core focus going forward, despite this retracted spin-off.
  3. Unexpected amount of “churn” – The number of people who terminated their Netflix subscription as a direct result of the announced split was simply too high and was putting the overall business revenue at risk. I’m not sure if this was the case, but Netflix users still got a shock when Netflix was unified again, whilst keeping two separate price schemes for DVD rental and streaming respectively.

Main learning point: even though Netflix and its CEO were halted in their tracks to split up the business, there’s no doubt that Netflix strategic focus will be on streaming in the years to come. I’m sure that when the time is right (and Netlix’ users are ready) Netflix will spin off its DVD rental business and concentrate solely on online content streaming.

Related links for further learning:

http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/10/netflix-abandons-plan-to-rent-dvds-on-qwikster/?scp=2&sq=netflix&st=cse

http://www.youtube.com/user/JeffreyHayzlett?feature=mhee

http://www.adweek.com/news/technology/netflix-reverses-its-qwikster-rebranding-135673

http://www.cnbc.com/id/44851424

http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/10/netflix-abandons-plan-to-rent-dvds-on-qwikster/ 

http://news.cnet.com/8301-31001_3-20118063-261/qwikster-nixed-netflix-catches-some-flak/

Wal-Mart and Tesco are going digital

This week has seen two intriguing acquisitions take place: US retail giant Wal-Mart and its UK counterpart Tesco both acquiring promising digital businesses. Last Monday, Wal-Mart bought social media firm Kosmix based in Silicon Valley and yesterday Tesco announced its purchase of a 80% stake in Blinkbox a UK-based online video streaming business.

It looks like we have a got a bit of a trend on our hands here: established retail companies buying into digital expertise and technology in order to successfully exploit the opportunities that social media, video and mobile have to offer.

“We are expanding our capabilities in today’s rapidly growing social commerce environment,” Eduardo Castro-Wright, vice chairman at Wal-Mart, said in a statement on Monday. “Social networking and mobile applications are increasingly becoming a part of our customers’ day-to-day lives globally, influencing how they think about shopping.”

Wal-Mart, a company that already has a strong track record in e-commerce and tracking how customers spend their money, is now looking at social media as another channel to generate revenue from. Kosmix is a social media filter aggregating information by topic from web sites, tweets and other online sources in real time*. The underlying idea is that this acquisition will provide Wal-Mart with valuable customer insights as well as provide a platform to further engage with customers.

Even though it’s a different kind of transaction, Tesco taking a significant stake in video streaming business Blinkbox, demonstrates a foray into “multi-channel retailing” similar to Wal-Mart’s purchase of Kosmix. Blinkbox offers TV and films for streaming and downloading with both ad-supported and paid-access models. It claims 2m monthly users and a 9,000-strong content catalogue and aims to significantly expand this catalogue.

I wonder how anxious the likes of Amazon and Sky felt when they found out about retail colossus Tesco venturing into video streaming. It has only been a few months since Amazon bought Lovefilm in a serious attempt to create a strong foothold into this very promising and lucrative marketplace. “We can link physical purchase of a product to the building of digital collections in a new and seamless way,” Tesco’s UK head, Richard Brasher, said. With Tesco’s current market power, it will definitely become an online video force to be reckoned with.

In short, these are the main things I have learned from both acquisitions:

  1. Social media and (online) retail form a very good combination – Whether it’s Groupon or Kosmix, social media based applications are no longer seen as just an extra marketing tool but as a business opportunity in its own right.
  2. Data is still king – Perhaps less so with the Blinkbox acquisition, but the depth of consumer data that Wal-Mart can potentially derive from using Kosmix technology seems massive.
  3. It’s all about web-based retail services! Both Wal-Mart and Teso are working hard to really grow their revenue from online retail. For instance, the Blinkbox move plays an important part in Tesco’s strategy to create its own online market place for content.

Main learning point: predicting that there will be a wave of acquisitions in the online space is not rocket science. Deals like the ones for Kosmix and Blinkbox, if anything, clearly show that established “brick and mortar” companies are increasingly looking to expand online and tap into the digital talent and technology already out there.

I’m not a technical guru but my developer peers keep telling me that even with ‘real time’ there is going to be a (minimal) time lag. Noted.

Related links for further learning:

http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2011/04/19/wal-mart-buys-social-media-site-kosmix/?ref=technology

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/91f2e84c-6a13-11e0-86e4-00144feab49a.html#axzz1K8ruGg4f

http://anand.typepad.com/datawocky/2011/04/retail-social-mobile-walmartlabs.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/pda/2011/apr/20/tesco-blinkbox

http://eu.techcrunch.com/2011/04/20/tesco-acquires-majority-of-blinkbox-to-take-internet-on-tv-mainstream/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-13141985