Periscope: An Early User's Guide

What to expect from Twitter's new live video broadcasting app

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The launch of Periscope – an app that enables you to broadcast videos live via your phone – marks the next logical step in social media.

Now, rather than post a photo or a quip about an experience you're having on Facebook or Twitter, you can simply invite the world to watch what you're doing live at any moment by pointing your phone at it.

The technology has been around for a while in rivals like Meerkat, but Periscope has been acquired by Twitter and made available to its followers, meaning the concept is now entering the internet mainstream. So Esquire spent the week playing with the Periscope, both as an exhibitionist and a voyeur.

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The former was odd, but enjoyable: broadcasts of a stroll along a Cornish beach, the preparation of a Sunday roast and our mate Carl mowing the lawn were all rapaciously received by Periscope’s still blossoming audience.

Good-natured comments and multiple ‘hearts’ – the app’s equivalent of a Facebook ‘like’ – flooded in, giving us a hit of social media serotonin roughly equivalent to, say, getting 50+ retweets of a particularly zingy line during Question Time. (This 'success' can no doubt be explained by the fact the number of broadcasts are still relatively small, and the users still giddy with the novelty of it all).

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Watching, however, was a less exciting experience. Part of the problem is Periscope's inherently open-ended and immediate nature – it's a bit like walking onto live television set without a plan or a script. No doubt when a country next revolts or a public atrocity takes place the noble, journalistic potential of Periscope will be realised and lauded – if only to make the rest of us feel better about our latest collective vanity project – but for now, it’s mainly just a bunch of people farting about.

But doing what, exactly? Already some Periscope trends are emerging. Here are five we have spotted so far. 

(Side note: the app is horribly designed, suggesting to us that it was rushed out. Hopefully they’re sorting this out, but for now, be prepared to have to fumble your way through a bit.)

1 | People being drunk
A natural extension of the point during every night out when someone insists on taking a dozen photos to embarrass their Facebook friends with the next day, the Periscope ‘look how drunk and funny we are!’ broadcast is already a standard. Essentially this is the realisation of a nightmare we’ve all shared where we (and potentially our boss) get to see, with absolute clarity, what we're like when we’ve had a few (broadcasts can be uploaded and rewatched for 24 hours afterwards). Expect lots of vague whooping, nonsensical slurring and endless creepy comments from users hoping to capitalise on the wasted person’s well-known predilection for flashing body parts.

2 | European teenagers
If Periscope is anything to go by, a teacher shortage has reached crisis point across the Channel. Groups of apparently unsupervised Italian / Spanish / Greek school kids filming each other making wacky faces and making fun of each other (we think) is very much the norm. Less of it seems to be going on in England, presumably because our kids are too busy developing alcohol dependencies and getting pregnant.

3 | People asking to be asked things
Periscope’s most obvious and ubiquitous broadcast so far – its version of an Instagram food snap or a Tweet humblebrag, if you will – is probably the Ask Me Anything. The AMA generally involves bored-looking people answering questions put to them by equally bored strangers, a Chatroulette-esque carousel of dimly-lit faces hypnotised by the sight of their own reflection, like dogs peering into a puddle. Being complicit in someone else’s listlessness is, unsurprisingly, not that illuminating.

4 | Media behind-the-scenes
Journalists and media companies in particular like social media, because it enables us to blur the ‘You Are Not The Story’ rule. Duly, behind-the-scenes streams from various newsrooms / broadcasting centres / public events are popping up everywhere, with varying results. So much of this stuff feels like it is being undertaken through fear of missing out on the Next Big Thing On The Internet rather than the belief it will add true value or entertainment, but that’s nothing new.

5 | Peoples filming their pets doing things