The thing about Meerkat, I realized yesterday, is the power of a new point of view.
I received a notification that Gary Vay-Ner-Chuk was going live on Meerkat, so I tuned in, even though I haven’t followed his videos for years. I know he did a show about wine and has written a bestselling book or two. My impression is that he’s always shouting, and he talks too fast.
The Meerkat stream showed Gary V sitting at a table or desk, with an assistant to his left, our right. From a laptop computer, she read possible questions from viewers. He dismissed one and okayed the rest. Then he leaned toward a camera we couldn’t see and began talking in his usual style. The Meerkat audio on my iPhone 6 Plus was okay but not great. Ditto for the framing of the shot for the visual. I don’t think the Meerkatting device was on a tripod. Everything was wrong, except one thing: the point of view.
Instead of watching from the screen that Gary V was shouting at, I was watching from off to the side, as if I were visiting the set or the office where this was taking place. Instead of being the object of the speaker, I was an observer of speaker and object. This made me feel closer to Gary V. He wasn’t trying to impress or inform me, so I felt free to root for him, to hope that whoever was watching him for real was enjoying the show. My defenses, my preconceived notions about him and my resistance to anyone who I think is coming on too strong, were all down. He didn’t even know I was in the room. He didn’t know who was watching on the other screen, either, but he was aiming at an image of them, perhaps based on audience data.
I had the same experience watching a Meerkat of Jeb Bush doing a radio interview in the front passenger seat of a car driving across Texas. Someone in the back seat was running the Meerkat, and we could only hear Bush’s answers, not the radio guy’s questions. Again, the shift in point of view left me more open to the potential candidate than if I had tuned into the radio show itself. I observed his body language, the calm tone of his voice, the way he glanced toward the back seat at one point as if to ask, “How’m I doin’?” My instinctive response was, “You’re doing great, boss.”
When the Meerkat creator is talking directly to me, this slant point of view does not come into play. That’s why I prefer streams where I can watch someone do something, like Mike Elgan typing on a computer to prepare for a TWIT show. I wish Mike would turn to the Meerkat eye more often, for an aside about what he’s working on, but just sitting there typing on a screen I can’t see is still oddly compelling.
It is certainly possible that the newness of the Meerkat meta view will fade leaving just the crappy audio and inelegant camera work. But at this point I doubt it. As the 2016 campaign gets rolling, and it already is, savvy politicos will aim for the sweet spot of the slant view of their candidates, offering Meerkaters an inside look without the head-on ranting and wheedling.
Ditto, of course, for Periscope, but at this point I am rooting for the darling of South By. My wife, her sister and I saw a mob or gang (the correct terminology, I discovered) of real meerkats at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs last weekend. Meerkats have distinct tasks, and one serves as sentinel, sitting tall and scanning for dangers and opportunities. It’s an adorable pose for the vulnerable, plucky little varmint, sitting up tall with purpose in order to defend his mob. Compared with that heart-plucking mascot, the Twitter Goliath’s icon is a metal tube with a cold eye rising up from the sea. Ugh.
I’m rooting for the Meerkat mob, and for anyone who uses this subtle but potent shift in point of view to change the world.