Eqtr @ SxSW 2015, Day Four - Close, But No Cigar

Our development director David Petrie expected live-streaming app Meerkat to be the big hit of SxSW 2015, however things quickly changed after Twitter blocked access to its social graph with just two hours' notice. In his Day Four blog, David discusses the dangers of integrating with a third party system.

Part of the buzz and excitement around SxSW is prospect of the potential rise of a new technology solution. SxSW 2007 saw the adoption by attendees of a little known tool aimed at keeping the community updated with the exciting talks and happening evening parties. That tool was Twitter. Notably, this was not a one off. FourSquare was actually built and launched for SxSW 2009 and ever since there has been much hype and speculation in the build-up to the event as to who the ‘winner’ of this year’s SxSW will be.

This year the focus was on an application called Meerkat. Meerkat is a live video streaming mobile application where users sign in using Twitter and can instantly start a live video stream with a single button click. Through your Twitter account you have an instant social group which receives push notifications when you start a broadcast. And of course, the app automatically tweets a link to the live stream on your account. As you can imagine, the app has been an instant hit at SxSW 2015. Unfortunately things quickly changed. With just two hours’ notice, Twitter contacted Meerkat with the following notice:

"We are limiting your access to Twitter’s social graph, consistent with our internal policy. Your users will still be able to distribute videos on Twitter and log in with their Twitter credentials."

Whilst the app will continue to work, the functionality will be heavily degraded with the app no longer having access to the Twitter social graph and therefore the automatic social group. So what should we take from this? Well there are some important lessons from this episode that should be carefully considered by any company where their core product offering heavily realises on a third party system:

  • Is it necessary? Relying on a third parties introduces a point of failure into your system. A simple example is social sign on. Whilst it is convenient to have users sign in with their social accounts and it can increase adoption through the lowering of the barrier to entry, what happens when the service fails? Admittedly, Facebook authentication does not go down often but it is not unknown.
  • Anticipate change. Companies continually adapt and grow and in turn the services, and in this particular case API’s and access, change in response. Take Twitter for example. When it was initially launched there was no adverts and promoted tweets. This is not the case today and as such Twitter’s business model has changed and with it the motivations for providing API’s to its users. This can easily result in major changes to the offered services. Consider and plan (if you can) how you will adapt your offering if some or all of these services change.
  • Build relationships. It is very common that access to third party services are available at no cost (with payment tiers available depending on usage). These services cost money to create, maintain and host. Consider how you can collaborate with your service providers in order to establish a position where you provide something back. This reduces the chance of your services simply being revoked.
  • Beware your competition. In the case of Meerkat, their access was not revoked because they abused the service. The truth is that Twitter recently acquired a company called Perisope, a direct Meerkat competitor. Twitter were simply protecting their own interests and using their position to squeeze out the competition.

It is disappointing that the hype and excitement around Meerkat at SxSW evaporated in an instant. It is doubly disappointing that Twitter, a company that got its start in exact the same way, came alone with its big boot and squashed Meerkat’s dreams like a cockroach. I only hope that, like a cockroach, they are not that easy to kill and that the app will find an alternative mechanism to continue to live and thrive.