Technology, particularly handheld technology, has transformed the way we view and respond to the world over the past decade. For every byte of information spent sharing the 17th, identical photo of one’s cat, the very same model of tiny camera is often transmitting footage of humanitarian disasters in need of aid or citizens taking to the streets for control of their own political destinies. It was here that Keyvon Beykpour and Joe Bernstein, two developers whose brand-app software Terriblyclever was bought by Blackboard in 2009, saw a gap in the market. When Beykpour and Bernstein were traveling in Turkey in 2013, they encountered demonstrations in Taksim Square where teargas was being used. “I remember talking to Joe and saying, it’s silly that there are all these smartphones with high-speed internet connections and thousands of people who walk by the street that my hotel’s on every day,” Beykpour said. “Why isn’t there a way for me to see through their eyes what’s happening right now? We decided, let’s try and build the closest thing to a teleportation device that we can.”
The result is Periscope, an app bought by Twitter in March for approximately $100 million before it had even launched, and one that gained a million users within 10 days of appearing on iTunes. Perhaps hoping to replicate the monster success of its Vine acquisition in 2012, Twitter has tried to integrate Periscope into pop culture as quickly as possible. UK Prime Minister David Cameron used the platform to broadcast his first address after winning the 2015 general election, and the Rolling Stones broadcast a secret, pre-tour concert from LA via Periscope in May. “When I first saw Periscope, I think it was November of 2014, it was one of those instantly — it was like Vine,” said former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo at Code Conference in May. “It was instantly, “This is going to be a powerful native mobile video content creation platform, and it’s going to be vital to have that kind of content pouring into the Twitter ecosystem.””
And that is where Periscope will differentiate itself from the plethora of popular, casual-streaming apps already available. What sets Twitter apart from, say, Facebook, is that the majority of Twitter users creates an account and then never interacts with others. Instead, these people use their feeds to gather news from notable people or events, and Twitter has been marshaling its resources to better focus on this personalized coverage curated for its users. A new feature, codenamed “Project Lightning” but rumored to actually be called “Moments,” will whisk one away to a dashboard showing various currently-trending events, be they pre-planned award shows or breaking news, and will allow browsing through relevant photos, videos, vines, and Periscope streams.
Beykpour said that one particular hurdle in developing the app was people’s distaste (or fear, depending on the significance of the event) of broadcasting live, as there often wasn’t a way to gauge audience reaction in real time. Periscope remedies this by enabling viewers to send “hearts” and comments, encouraging streamers to continue. “We want Periscope to be a platform for truth,” Beykpour said. “It’s unfiltered, it’s unedited, it’s unfettered, and you know it’s happening right now,” he said. “That mishmash of perspectives is ultimately representative of the world and we’re just surfacing it in a way that’s as frictionless as possible. That's the tool that the world deserves.”
Periscope’s ability to get around censorship, buffering video clients, and, especially, subscription paywalls, has landed it front and center in an emerging conflict between conventional broadcasters and their growing list of “cord-cutting,” streaming-based competitors like Netflix and Hulu. Illegal streams of such lucrative events as this spring’s Pacquiao/Mayweather fight and the last season premiere of “Game of Thrones” has called licensing limits into question, but Beykpour and Twitter have made assurances that better, alternative sources of piracy, as well as Periscope’s own internal policing, will keep unlawful activity from becoming too closely associated with the app’s name. Still, network chiefs like ESPN President John Skipper remain wary of how the app’s future growth could enable such conflicts, and see Periscope as symptomatic of a larger ideological problem within the tech industry. “It would be really nice if our friends in the Valley would quit hiding behind the idea that they don't have to engage in the protection of intellectual property," Skipper said in May.