Turning inner space into outer space

March 28, 2015

Now you can pick up your phone and watch what's happening all over the world

Periscope screenshot
A screenshot from Periscope shows smoke rising from a building collapse in New York. Watchers were able to comment in real time.

With Twitter you can tell people what you’re doing right now. With Periscope you can show them what you’re doing — via live streaming.

With this new app you can point your iPhone, tap a button and within seconds show the world what’s happening.

I’ve tried it, and it works. People around the globe were able to watch my cat rolling around and stretching on the floor. A few viewers displayed their approval by floating up some hearts. One sent a comment: “Beautiful cat”.

It was both thrilling and unnerving to give the world this tiny window into my kitchen. When the cat got bored, I stopped broadcasting and declined Periscope’s offer to save the video.

You can see other people’s live streams by scrolling through the app’s feed, just the way you do with Twitter, Facebook or pretty much any other social media app. The difference is that many of the options have the word “live” on them. When you tap on one of them, you’re peeking at something that’s taking place right then.

Of course, you might have to scroll for quite some time before you find something worth viewing. I lucked out and watched a guy doing from fire juggling. Periscope users encouraged him by sending lots of hearts. Some asked him to try specific tricks, and he obliged — all in real time.

I wasn’t the only one to show a pet’s antics. There are plenty of those, because the Internet just can’t seem to get enough of dogs and cats.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Star reports that Periscope has been embraced by the media and celebrities:

Periscope has already seen CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta bring it into a surgery, and comedian John Hodgman used it to kill time answering users’ questions in an airport. Famed Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has been using Periscope and NBC’s Today used it to show some behind-the-scenes stuff featuring weatherman Al Roker.

I predict Periscope will soon be on the smartphone of every journalist. Imagine being on the scene of a major incident and being able to broadcast it live to your followers. In fact, something like that occurred when a building collapsed recently in New York.

Ben Popper describes discovering the disaster on Periscope:

I got a push notification on Periscope, the new live-streaming app from Twitter, about a broadcast from the scene of the accident. Suddenly I was watching a video of the fire and smoke from a block away. No news media had yet arrived on the scene. . . . The broadcaster, Andrew Steinthal, got within a hundred feet or so before police arrived and asked everyone to disperse. Steinthal faced the camera, said how scary the whole thing had been, then signed off from his first Periscope reporting.

At the very least, news organizations are going to monitor Periscope for videos when they hear about an incident.

Let’s not forget that it was largely the efforts of journalists that made Twitter the success it is today. When that service started out, it was filled with the most mundane posts imaginable. Now it’s a source of breaking news and links to insightful commentary.

In a recent series of tweets, co-founder Jack Dorsey went out of his way to express his gratitude to journalists: “THANK YOU for keeping the world (and us!) honest and using Twitter to do your work. We wouldn’t be here without you.”

If Periscope does become a big success, it will in large part be due to the support of reporters and editors, who, as Dorsey says, “are true servants of the people.”

By the way, there is another app similar to Periscope called Meerkat. I haven’t tried it, but it’s also getting good reviews.

Neither of these apps is available yet for Android. Judging by the big splash they’ve been making so far, I predict it won’t be long before you can download them from Google Play.