Can Meerkat Beat Twitter's Periscope With a Public API?

Meerkat, the mobile live streaming services that shot to fame at this year's SXSW conference, has unveiled a public API that developers can use to build their own experiences around some of the popular app's functionality.

Meerkat's JSON REST API allows developers to find broadcasts and retrieve information about broadcasts, such as how many people are watching and who they are, as well as associated content, including schedules, likes and comments. Developers can also retrieve information about individual Meerkat users, such as which broadcasts they're associated with.

Calling itself an "open Platform," Meerkat explained its rationale for launching a public API. "We want to create a community for third party developers to interact and work together with the Meerkat dev team," the company explained in a blog post. "There is a lot more to be done with video live streaming and we are here to support you. We all get better by working together."

According to TechCrunch, since Meerkat rose to fame less than three months ago, dozens of developers have created applications using the company's private API. Meerkat highlighted several of them, including Meerkat Stats and Meerkat Streams. But instead of punishing these developers for using its private API, the company called their apps "examples of great products that the Meerkat community loves and that we’ll be doing everything we can to keep supporting."

For Meerkat, Open API Equals Opportunity

One of the reasons Meerkat is likely embracing third-party developers and trying to woo them with a public API is that it faces significant competition from Periscope, which is owned by Twitter. Meerkat may have been the star of SXSW, but Periscope is growing in popularity and, as TechCrunch's Josh Constine observed, appeared to beat out Meerkat in popularity during the Coachella music festival.

By giving developers the opportunity to build Meerkat-based apps, Meerkat may be able to more effectively compete against an opponent with far more financial backing. Of course, Periscope could launch a public API of its own, but given Twitter's history and complicated relationship with third-party developers, some might be hesitant to embrace a Periscope API fearing that Twitter will eventually cut them off.

To reassure developers that Meerkat won't ever behave like Twitter has, Meerkat's founder, Ben Rubin, told the audience at the Disrupt NY conference that it won't subtract from the API it has launched. "We believe that whatever we release now is a promise forever," he said. To that end, Meerkat's API is notably missing a feature that allows third-party apps to broadcast live streams on the service.

While additional API functionality, including the ability to create streams, might be added in the future, in the meantime, developers looking to build their own streaming services can turn to Ustream, which, in an effort to capitalize on the newfound interest in live streaming, recently launched a mobile live Streaming API and SDK of its own.

Be sure to read the next Streaming article: Wowza Media Systems Announces REST API for Wowza Streaming Engine