Not since Twitter debuted in 2007 at South by Southwest, the Austin-based confab, has an app taken off there quite like Meerkat has this year. The video-streaming startup became the talk of the conference, aided by its dead-simple interface, which lets iPhone users become live broadcasters with the press of a button. Live-stream videos are hardly novel, but Meerkat, which launched in February, has gained traction by pairing the concept with social media. Users blast out videos via Twitter, and followers can easily like or comment on the streams as they’re being broadcast. Meerkat garnered 160,000 users in less than three weeks.
So far, many first adopters are streaming videos of their bored officemates or sleeping pets. But there’s a lot of potential for more-compelling content. Real estate agents have used the app to host virtual house tours, and journalists have streamed the continued unrest in Ferguson, Mo. Brands are also testing Meerkat: Red Bull jumped on the service to stream a snowboarding competition from the vantage of the judges’ table, for instance. Scott Campbell, a professor of telecommunications at the University of Michigan, says the appeal is similar to photo app Snapchat’s, “making it easier for other people to participate in a moment.”
Meerkat has plenty of competitors, including Twitter, which cut off access to some of its functions on March 13 and is planning a similar feature of its own. Another difference between today and 2007? Hit apps–think Chatroulette, Secret, Ello–can have a much shorter life span before disappearing.
HOW MEERKAT WORKS
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1 Launch a stream with a single button press in the Meerkat app
MKUser @MeerkatUser555 | LIVE NOW | Check out my cat! mrk.tv/555asdf #meerkat
2 A link to the stream automatically appears in the user’s Twitter account
3 Anyone can watch the stream from any device
4 Twitter users can like, comment on or retweet the stream as it’s happening
This live-streaming app offers functionality similar to Meerkat’s but also streams to Facebook and Google+
The Amazon-owned site known for streaming video games added the ability to live-stream mobile games last March
Twitter’s yet-to-be-launched streaming app will reportedly let users view archived footage and could kill off Meerkat’s hype
This appears in the March 30, 2015 issue of TIME.