If you’re not paying careful attention, you might think that Periscope is a live-broadcasting capability within Twitter, akin to Facebook’s Live Video, an offering that is said to occupy an outsize percentage of Mark Zuckerberg’s attention these days. Periscope videos, after all, appear seamlessly inside tweets. And each time you compose a tweet, there’s a "Live" button tempting you to broadcast rather than type.
But Periscope is no mere feature. Like Facebook’s Instagram, it’s also an app unto itself, with its own community.
That duality also exists behind the scenes, where Periscope is run by cofounder and CEO Kayvon Beykpour, who has a 54-person team and the freedom to shape the service’s destiny while piggybacking on Twitter resources such as the Cortex artificial-intelligence group. He’s also a member of Twitter’s executive team, giving him influence over the company’s overall direction.
By investing both in high-end, must-see programming such as NFL games and Periscope’s democratized approach to streaming, Twitter is covering the whole spectrum of live events. "They’re really part of the same mission," Beykpour explains. "You can experience something live with other people and have a conversation around it in a way that makes the content more compelling."
On Periscope as on Twitter, those conversations can be ruined by abusive users. "If you’re broadcasting and someone says something negative, it’s almost too late, because you’ve experienced it already," says Beykpour. Periscope recently fought back against the trolls with a new feature that creates mini-juries of users and lets them vote, on the fly, on whether a comment is offensive. The tactic has helped—and its deeply Periscopey feel makes it unexpectedly engaging.
So far, Periscope seems to be flourishing. In the first year after its March 2015 debut, Periscope racked up 200 million total broadcasts and reached an average of 110 years’ worth of video watched per day. Like tweets before them, Periscopes are becoming part of the culture—even showing up on television newscasts, where anchors have been known to be flummoxed by the hearts that bobble up as viewers like a video.
Periscope’s personable nature, even when combating miscreants, helps explain why it has caught on in a way that earlier live-streaming apps did not. "It’s scary to be live," says Beykpour. "It’s our responsibility to make it feel as frictionless and as not-scary as possible."
A version of this article appeared in the October 2016 issue of Fast Company magazine.