When Twitter announced it had acquired Periscope in March 2015, the app was full of promise. It was one of the first to let anyone broadcast video of themselves live from anywhere in the world, using just a smartphone. It also let them interact with viewers through real-time comments and a little heart button used to express that you “liked” someone’s video. By the end of 2015, Apple iOS app of the year — and Twitter had a hit on its hands.
But three years later, Periscope is a shell of its former self. The internet celebrities who once dedicated much of their time to Periscope have mostly abandoned it, choosing to invest time into Facebook Live instead, or to quit streaming altogether. Those who have continued using the service have expressed frustrations with Twitter and its commitment to the community. Ask any Periscope user what its like in 2018, and you’ll hear wild stories about backstabbing, abandonment, and generally being mistreated by the community and company.
Now, Periscope is basically a wasteland of forgotten streamers, driven by the fame-obsessed personalities who refuse to let it go. Twitter has all-but-abandoned the app. The word “Periscope” was not even mentioned during Twitter’s 2017 earnings call on Thursday, when it reported profitability for the first time ever, nor was it said during the previous quarter’s call. The company hasn’t rolled out a significant update in years, other than a small monetization feature that debuted last June.
The last time Periscope was part of a major cultural moment was back in 2016, when Democrats used Periscope to promote their sit-in Congressional protest. Now, it seems the only conversations about the app are centered around its child pornography and bullying problem. But there is still a small group of dedicated users who enjoy using the app and yet still question its future.
“Periscope is the greatest app ever,” says Ron Waxman, a full-time sports agent who tries to stream every day with Periscope and typically gathers an audience of about a hundred people. “The problem is that it is run by kids like a kids’ club.”
Back in April 2015, Waxman joined Periscope and started streaming regularly from New York City, attracting more than 34,000 followers. At 2 a.m. on a recent chilly evening, Waxman stood on a rooftop on the Upper East Side. To a passerby, it might have seemed like he was talking to himself. But with his iPhone in hand and arm stretched out, Waxman was speaking with 60 people at the time via Periscope. He’s since been nominated for a 2018 Shorty Award as Live Streamer of the Year.
And yet, earlier that evening, we’re sitting in the first floor of the apartment complex where he streams and talking about his grievances with the app that has also brought him so much joy. Waxman emphasized the lack of respect he feels Periscope’s HQ has for creators such as himself. Despite having the right credentials to be admitted into the Periscope VIP program, he wasn’t granted access until after a 60-day probation (reasons unknown to him). He was also recently removed from the VIP community’s Slack channel, managed by Periscope (again, exact reasons unclear to him).
It’s uncommon to bite the hand that feeds in the world of internet superstardom, especially when you’re an active user who is verified and can therefore make money through the free-to-use app. But this is Periscope in 2018, and this is Ron Waxman, who openly talks about Periscope’s problems on the app and on Twitter.
When Twitter first acquired Periscope, it focused on building a devoted community of streamers that would regularly create their own videos and build an audience. But much like the downfall of Twitter’s now-defunct app Vine, a lack of communication with content creators has caused turmoil. Other creator-driven platforms like YouTube and Snapchat have their own problems. But Twitter’s reputation for neglecting its most popular creators has its own community asking, why hasn’t Periscope gone to the app graveyard?
Bringing people together
At its core, Periscope was about connecting people. All around the world, people fell in love with an app that let them stream from anywhere, easily, as long as they had a smartphone.
“I joined it because it gives me something to do when I’m bored or I want to do something with art,” Jessica Blaumer, a 21-year-old student from Portland, Oregon, told Mashable. “My friend introduced me to it and got me addicted to it.”
In the summer of 2015, Jon Jacques quit his job at a video marketing company to Periscope full-time.
“Periscope was very good to me as a platform. I had more than 100,000 followers. Ellen DeGeneres signed me on a video series. I got to interview Chris Hemsworth on the red carpet. It really opened a lot of doors for me,” Jacques said.
It was only a matter of time before the newly formed Periscope community came together in person. Back in September 2015, Ryan Bell ran the first Periscope Summit and attracted hundreds of Periscope users like Mitch Oates, an Australian photographer and surfer, and Amanda Oleander, a painter from Los Angeles who became the first Periscope star signed by a major talent agency.
Periscope, the company, wasn’t an official sponsor for these community-driven events, but it did show gratitude by paying the NYC event’s bar tab. They also sent employees to the second event in San Francisco and had the community manager speak at the third in Los Angeles.
“I make sure we send love to people who share awesome content. That’ll be a lot harder as we get bigger and bigger, but those people will become advocates for us down the line,” Periscope’s former community manager, Lili Salzberg, told me in January 2016. Salzberg left in April 2017.
I was at each of those community-driven events. In NYC, I recorded my first Periscope with attendees Jon Erlichman and Geoff Golberg, who, at the time, were two of the most followed and watched users. That video stream is no longer available. Back then, videos disappeared. Since then, so has much of the talent who used Periscope.
Oates and Oleander still broadcast on the app and earn money through digital tips called “Super Hearts” on the app. Earlier this week, Oates streamed from the top of a mountain in the Philippines, and Oleander streamed after finishing her first tattoo removal.
But other familiar faces are mostly gone. Erlichman is still on camera, anchoring Canada’s Business News Network. Golberg, on the other hand, is permanently suspended from Periscope. He described his experience in a Medium post in April 2017. To this day, Golberg doesn’t know exactly why his account was disabled.
“Transparency, proper communication, and accountability have been issues with Periscope since day one and continue to be so,” Golberg told Mashable.
Blowing the whistle
No app is perfect, but when it comes to Periscope’s problems, the lack of communication has largely frustrated the community that uses it.
Golberg has used Twitter and Periscope to share his concerns. One point of contention was simply a product feature: How does Periscope define a video view? Broadcasters had been confused about how views added up when ‘scopes could be watched in-app, on desktop, and on the Apple TV app. After Inc. magazine reported Golberg’s concern, Periscope finally released a page in its Help Center that described the process.
Separately, active users on Periscope quickly became aware of the app’s ongoing child pornography problem.
“All over these platforms are people cultivating and grooming children,” said Ryan Miller, an active Periscope user who runs Parent Dome, a resource center about children safety on the internet. He streamed his decision to leave Periscope, on Periscope, last week.
“Periscope is lacking resources to respond to the volume of problematic viewers and broadcasts outside of their Terms of Service agreement,” he said. “The restricted visibility of broadcasts or censorship of certain content.”
There was no way to specifically report an underage user on Periscope until November 2017 when Periscope added more options. That came after years of pressure from vocal users like Miller and Golberg. App features like the “First Scope” feed may have been fun for new users, but, as Golberg noted, also an easy way for men to prey on young women. Golberg streamed and tweeted about his concerns. Slate spoke with Golberg and published a piece about the “minor problem” in December 2017. Gizmodo later uncovered 50 accounts “soliciting sexualized images of minors” in one afternoon.
A Twitter spokesperson pointed Mashable to a November 2017 Medium post when asked about the issue. The page reads, “keeping people safe on Periscope is our top priority. Our committed team works around the clock to ensure the content on our service meets our Community Guidelines.”
The spokesperson declined to elaborate how big the moderation team is, but said reported broadcasts are reviewed by the team 24/7 worldwide.
For all his trouble, Golberg’s Periscope account is still suspended. He doesn’t know why exactly. But he’s still active on Twitter, although his account is marked as containing “sensitive material.” But he’s not done speaking out.
“I felt the only way to get Twitter to not simply pretend they were unaware of this issues was to start tagging them on Twitter. I didn’t want to allow them the chance to play stupid,” Golberg told Mashable.
And yet, other Periscope users have called out whistleblowers, like Waxman and Golberg, and labeled them as bullies of Periscope. Active Periscope user Dave a.k.a. @dvs71Chicago, who is verified, streamed about the issue earlier this week.
“It’s easy to say just get off this platform. But this platform is supposed to be safe. What’s the purpose of having Community Guidelines if they’re not being enforced?” he said in his recent stream from his Periscope account. “There have been a number of people who don’t broadcast anymore because they’ve been called out.”
On the broadcast, he said, “There’s been a lot of people who have done me wrong in life. I’m not going to go out on a blowhorn and call them out.”
Dave later retweeted this tweet specifically about Waxman:
“Periscope needs to step-up and support the people who are reporting abuse,” Dave said at the end of the scope. “I gotta go. I have to get to work.”
An unclear future
During Periscope’s early days, there was an intentional division between it and its parent company Twitter, but that separation is gone even as the standalone apps persists.
The Periscope team originally had its own office separate from the Twitter headquarters in San Francisco. Back in January 2016, they had 28 people on the team working in that office. Later on, they were moved to Twitter HQ. Now, Twitter is unable to provide an actual number of Periscope-dedicated staffers.
Periscope is considered “one product within the video” department, and Twitter employees frequently move between the projects, a spokesperson told Mashable. A recent job description for a web software engineer for the consumer video client highlights that blend.
Kayvon Beykpour, the founder of Periscope and former CEO, is now the general manager of video at Twitter. That includes Periscope.
Periscope “created a ton of live-streamers out of people.”
Periscope is also losing its prominence in digital conversations among entertainers, advertisers, and within the company. Still, a handful of dedicated users keep streaming.
“Periscope made it so anyone could go live with one click, and it created a ton of live-streamers out of people who’d never live-streamed before,” said Greg Galant, creator of the Shorty Awards.
And yet, now, in 2018, people can choose from a plethora of streaming services: Facebook Live, Instagram Live, YouTube Live, and Amazon’s Twitch.
Jacques, who had quit his job to Periscope full-time, ended up launching Applause, a company dedicated to pairing live-streamers with brands. He ran it from August 2015 to the end of 2016 and coordinated with brands like Kate Spade, Starwood Hotels and Resort, and Bose. Now, Jacques focuses his attention on growing his own audience on Facebook.
“Facebook’s shareability has been huge. You can reach millions of people and tap into new audiences,” Jacques said. He said his Facebook videos have had between 1 million to 20 million views. Meanwhile, his Periscope broadcasts averaged 1,000 to 8,000 views.
For Jacques, it’s not just about the scale. He’s not using Facebook Live. Rather, he’s focused on original video that is edited and shared.
“At first I thought that was cool, just being able to start the broadcast. That part was great but just content wise it’s just tough looking at live video from a content perspective. You lose people’s attention,” Jacques said.
As evident from the last two earnings calls, if Twitter executives don’t want to talk about it to analysts and investors, why is Periscope still around?
“Periscope continues to support a robust and vibrant community of live video creators,” a Twitter spokesperson told Mashable. The spokesperson declined to elaborate how much longer that would be the case.
Almost exactly a year ago, former Periscope CEO Kayvon Beykpour told Mashable that, “as long as people are broadcasting using the app and people are watching using the app, there’s inherent value in it.” Of course, we all know that wasn’t the case with Twitter’s other now-defunct video property, Vine.
On top of this, more people, many of whom were once prolific users on the platforms, are done tapping “Go Live” on Periscope. For example, Miller told Mashable last week he’s over it. “I have very low respect in regard to the leadership,” he said.
Waxman, however, is still streaming every night he can at 2 a.m. ET. We’ll see you in the comments with the dozens of other viewers.