Meerkat & Tworlds; Real-Time Voyeurism

This post originally appeared as an article on Medium under the title “Live From Anywhere, It’s Other People’s Lives”.

Do you remember the first season you watched almost every episode of Saturday Night Live? If you can’t remember such a time, you should probably set your DVR to record NBC at 11:29 before you read any further.

Think back on the first time you saw a cast member break, or a musical guest curse on screen or the tragedy of tragedies a boom mic leaning too far into the shot. What made these moments significant? The fact that they happened live, or at least on a 5–7 second tape delay.

We in the tech/social industry have been captivated by the live event over the last few years. The Grammys, the Super Bowl and major news events become the “best” times to be a member of the Twitterati. Until recently though, we haven’t had a very good way to experience the rush of shared live experience for micro events.

Meerkat Screenshot

The end of a Meerkat stream hosted by my friend Zack.

Matt Mazzeo wrote a great piece this week on this called “Concurrence”. In it he argues that the proliferation of smartphones and the rapid adoption of video streaming app Meerkat are going to make concurrent experience a more ubiquitous part of our constantly connected lives. And I think he’s absolutely right.

The difference this time around though, is the types of experiences we’re going to be sharing. In the last 36 hours I’ve used Meerkat to watch behind-the-scenes coverage of a video shoot, an intimate acoustic performance from someone’s hotel room and footage of a friend’s younger sister playing. These are, for the most part, spontaneous events captured quickly for a captive audience of people emotionally invested in the host. Technical quality is decreased, but emotional effect is increased dramatically.

On the other side of the same coin is the new app Tworlds, in which users from around the world share unedited snapshots of the minutiae of daily life. All you have to do is choose from one of the hashtags offered (i.e. #food, #work, #WOW) and then take a photo. Your photo is instantly placed in a diptych with another user’s. You have no control over who you get, and you don’t get any information on them except what city they’re in at the moment.

A diptych from Tworlds, that I posted when I read about Harrison Ford’s plane crash.

The thing both of these apps offer is a concurrent, synchronous and voyeuristic experience in an age of disconnected, asynchronous and exhibitionist online communication. Meerkat and Tworlds let us peak into other peoples’ lives as if looking through window, rather than reading their old letters. And as Isaac Brock (of Modest Mouse fame) once said, “Other people’s lives are interesting because they ain’t mine.”

I’m excited to see how people use these apps in the coming months; whether its sharing their kids’ first steps with family in real time on Meerkat, or learning about other peoples’ procrastination habits on Tworlds. Mostly though, I’m excited to see social networks that rely on the emotional connection we have to other people through the rapid presentation of raw unfiltered content, just like the first time we saw someone break character behind the Weekend Update desk.