First things first: Meerkat is an app that connects to your Twitter account for the primary purpose of alerting you to when other people join Meerkat. Ha ha, I kid! That's not its purpose, but has, instead, so far been its functionality as people rush to figure out the Hot New Thing in Tech. The app itself is a tool that allows you to stream live video from your phone, notifying your Twitter followers when a livestream begins.
At Medium (the Hot New(ish) Thing in Web Publishing), former White House communications guru Dan Pfeiffer offers his breathless endorsement. "How Meerkat is Going to Change the 2016 Election for Every Campaign, Reporter and Voter," his piece is actually called, and bullets out some of the ways that change will happen. There will be a gaffe on live video; reporters will have to use it; Millennials will be into it; having more Twitter followers is more useful. There you go.
Let's set aside the idea that Millennials will see @ScottWalker tweet "|LIVE NOW| Gov. Walker speaks at the Des Moines Rotary" and click the link so fast their screens break. Let's instead wrap the Meerkat Bubble in a little context.
Pfeiffer spoke this week at South by Southwest, an annual conference in Austin that parcels out part of its energies to explore the newest and latest things in tech. SXSW, as it's known, built an early reputation as a tech kingmaker in part because Twitter made a big splash there in 2007, and then went on to dominate the world of media (if not other worlds, entirely). Sam Altman of the tech start-up engine Y Combinator has tweeted a list of the hot new technologies at each gathering for the past few years. ("Twtr" is Twitter's stock ticker ID, and is similar to an early version of the name of the application.)
So Twitter you know, perhaps use. Foursquare you've probably heard of, too, and perhaps recognize that its star quickly burned out. What about those other things? No?
We'll note that Meerkat didn't actually win an of SXSW's actual tech awards. It just won the hearts of attendees, who glommed onto it and messed around with it a lot and talked it up. Attendees like Pfeiffer.
Dan Pfeiffer is very smart about communications, and he is a veteran of the tech-savviest campaigns in American presidential history. But there's a longstanding trend in technology of people rushing around and getting excited about a new thing and then that thing vanishing. Secret Ello DrawSomething Turntable.fm Yo. There was even a day when some Ukbeki social network took over the media world, as I remember, though that was mostly a joke. It is a fool's game to make long term projections about the success or failure of flashy new tech tools. Even Snapchat, often cited as a success story, landed heavily but took a while to find its footing by offering a distinctly different value proposition.
When you overlap those flashes of enthusiasm with campaigns eager to show off their tech chops in a world where donors look for that sort of thing (perhaps not always understanding which tech adoptions are valuable), a Meerkat bubble is inevitable. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) keeps talking about Snapchat certainly in part because he thinks it reinforces his core messages about appealing to young voters and advocating for privacy. But Rand Paul will not be our next president because he uses Snapchat. Snapchat will almost certainly not dramatically shift a presidential race involving millions of voters and billions of dollars. Nor, it is very smart to assume, will Meerkat.