Early last year, Twitter bought live video-streaming app Periscope, before it had even been announced. Then it pretty much let it do its thing—including launching last March—without taking any aggressive steps to meld the newcomer with Twitter itself.
It was always obvious, however, that Periscope's real-time streaming would be a logical type of content to put right within Twitter. And now Twitter and Periscope are making a meaningful move in that direction with a new capability that's rolling out in Twitter's iPhone and iPad apps today. Users will be able to watch live and archived Periscope videos without having to install Periscope, join the service, or even leave their Twitter stream.
By default, Periscope videos autoplay in the stream. Tapping on a video puts you in a full-screen view that looks like the Periscope app, with comments and the hearts that float upwards like tiny helium balloons. It's a passive experience: You can't create a live stream of your own, or add comments or hearts. But a link at the top of the full-screen view lets you open the Periscope app (or download it from the App Store if you don't have it).
"When you think of Twitter and you think of Periscope, a lot of the vision overlaps," says Sara Haider, Periscope's mobile engineering lead. "These are both apps that allow you to see what's going on in the world right now, and we think that there's a happy marriage between these two apps that is going to be pretty cool."
The way this Periscope/Twitter integration feels—a bit of Periscope is within Twitter, but retaining its own personality—parallels the relationship between Periscope and Twitter the corporate entities. Rather than having been folded into its parent, Periscope remains its own operation, with a small team run by cofounders Kayvon Beykpour and Joe Bernstein based in its own San Francisco office a few blocks from Twitter's headquarters. The new features in the iOS app, therefore, reflect the joint work of people who hadn't previously had much exposure to each other.
"This was a huge collaborative effort between Twitter and Periscope," says Haider. "It's certainly the first time we've done anything like this, but it's also the first time Twitter's done anything like this, to have such an immersive experience with an app that isn't Twitter." One thing that helped: The primary Periscope engineer devoted to the integration project was a former member of Twitter's iOS team.
The end result involves Periscope living within Twitter in a form that's instantly familiar to anyone who's ever Periscoped, but which also works with existing Twitter features such as retweeting and search. "You can interact with the tweet in any way that you could interact with any other tweet," says Periscope software engineer Aaron Wasserman. "It's just that if you click into it, now you're suddenly in a Periscope experience that lives inside Twitter."
The effort required to build Periscope viewing into Twitter was substantial enough that the capability is debuting on a single platform. "We had to rethink some of the way we did things to make this possible," he says. "It's both scary and awesome for me to think about the fact that my iOS Periscope code is now inside Twitter's app as well."
Now that some of the initial heavy lifting is out of the way, Twitter and Periscope plan to bring integrated Periscope viewing to other flavors of Twitter, such as the Android app. "If we take ourselves seriously, this vision of, "See the world through someone else's eyes, see what's going on in the world right now," we can't limit the distribution of that just to people who download the app," Wasserman says, "Ideally, anyone can view these, however is easiest for them."
The embedded Periscope capability within Twitter could have a shot at being far more transformative if it were possible for people with Twitter accounts to broadcast from their phones, not just view existing streams—a scenario that Wasserman says would be terrific, but which won't happen in the immediate future. "There's so many broadcasts being posted to Twitter every single day, so we really wanted to make the viewing experience come first," he explains.
But even in this initial consumption-only form, Periscope could get a lot more viral now that it'll be right in front of everyone who uses the iOS app. And the timing is fortuitous given that Periscope just had its most viral moment so far, when a half-million people tuned into a stream showing people in England trying to deal with a formidable puddle. "I had woken up that morning at 4:30 for no particular reason, and I opened up Twitter, and there were 500 people in the broadcast," says Haider. "I was like, 'This is stupid,' and went back to sleep. I woke up again later, there's thousands and thousands of people in the broadcast, everyone's tweeting about it. I'm like, 'Maybe I should have stayed awake.'"
If that many people can get that fixated on a Periscoped puddle already, imagine what sort of shared obsessions might break out once watching Periscope is as easy as glancing at a tweet.