Tech Untangled: Periscope live streaming augments presidential tweets

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technology-bourIt is well known that President Trump likes to communicate directly with the American public via Twitter. I admit that I am a subscriber to his Twitter feed. Just before the election, I set up my phone to receive a text message of his tweets each time one is sent. If nothing else, by glancing at these tweets, I often get a preview about what stories might become topics of discussion on the news that day. Sometimes from within his tweets, the President will also include a link to a news story or a recorded video clip, his weekly address for example.

Recently, a new type of link caught my eye from within a Trump tweet. It said, “Join me live from the @WhiteHouse via #Periscope”. The President was inviting viewers to a live video stream concerning a statement on Jerusalem. I learned that he will occasionally use Periscope to broadcast a live event. I had heard of Periscope, but never really considered it to be an application of any great value for serious purposes. Maybe I was wrong. Today’s article will review the Periscope app and provide some impressions.

I clicked on the link about the live feed to see what I would get. I was directed to a splash page with a picture of the Seal of the President of the United States showing the White House in the background. The live feed had ended. I had missed it, and I thought that was that. I thought perhaps that I needed to be a Periscope subscriber to view the feed, but later I learned differently. After working with it for a while, I realized the video could be rewound and replayed. Things were easier to navigate from within the app, which I downloaded from the Google Play store. Through your computer, the home page can be found at It provides a similar, though not identical, experience.

While you can replay videos on Periscope, the whole concept seems more geared toward the streaming and viewing of live video, primarily from your phone. The opening page at Periscope takes you to a list of live feeds of different categories. The feeds can also be sorted by geographic location. Some of the feeds are mildly interesting. For example, I ran across one where they were broadcasting from the scene of the California wildfires. Others are simply folks taking a walk on the beach while on vacation, or documenting their night out on the town. Most of the feeds are just of people talking, essentially a collection of rambling video selfies. As people are broadcasting, they can receive random text chat comments from their audience. These viewers can also send the broadcaster “likes” as hearts float up the edge of the screen. The whole concept seems like something tailored for narcissists. Most of the broadcasts strike me as insipid and unimportant. I can’t imagine any reason to ever want to replay these broadcasts, except perhaps as evidence in a legal matter.

The Periscope “About Us” page describes their concept like this. “Periscope was founded on the belief that live video is a powerful source of truth and connects us in an authentic way with the world around us. We are fascinated by the idea of discovering the world through someone else’s eyes.” I think the whole thing is simply a lightweight, mildly entertaining broadcasting app.

In theory, Periscope could be useful to broadcast important societal interactions such as civil unrest events, or disaster relief response efforts. In practice, I think there are probably better social media avenues for such things.

If you become a subscriber, you too can broadcast video instead of only watching others’ feeds. The default setup on your phone provokes you toward streaming such a public broadcast. It prompts you to tell people what’s happening by providing a descriptive title to your broadcast.

To add some degree of exclusivity (I wouldn’t call it privacy) you can choose to create a group, give it a name, and then easily broadcast to a select audience. Groups like this can be open, where any member can add or remove people, or closed, where only the group creator can change the group’s members. Something like this might be useful, for example, to broadcast a graduation ceremony to a group of relatives.

I could also imagine there might be some situations where an attorney or investigator might want to set up a group broadcast to send live video to several of their team members. Perhaps in documenting an accident scene, or sending a live feed from a meeting or seminar. Again, the use of Periscope seems best suited to broadcasting directly from your phone. It is technically intriguing to me that Periscope can be used with a higher quality camera (instead of a smartphone) to broadcast something important like a CLE lecture or a White House speech. But while it certainly can work, it does not seem like the best fit for this particular technology. I think I will leave Periscope to the video selfie crowd.•


Stephen Bour ([email protected]) is an engineer and legal technology consultant in Indianapolis. His company, the Alliance for Litigation Support Inc., includes Bour Technical Services and Alliance Court Reporting. Areas of service include legal videography, tape analysis, document scanning to CD and courtroom presentation support. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.

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