It seems like every op-ed writer in the tech space has something to say about the recent influx of livestreaming apps, particularly Meerkat and Periscope. Some think they’re brilliant tools for journalists to access breaking news (case in point: coverage of the recent building collapse in NYC received immediate attention on both apps). Others seem to think personal streaming is just going to result in the implosion of human society driven by narcissism (which just sounds dramatic). In reality, like so many new social media phenomena everyone thought would ruin the world, it’ll probably sit somewhere in between.

But it does bear wondering what larger implications livestreaming might have for us. It could just be the next to pass through the revolving door of networking apps, a natural confluence of technology and social networking coming together that will give way to a newer, better thing with more funding. Plus, to revisit the whole narcissism issue for a moment, livestreaming does feel like an extension of our obsession with reality TV, except you get to be the Real Housewife or the Kardashian in question. And that line of thinking makes it feel superficial and even a little icky.

But we can’t discount the giant impact that virtual networks have on real social interaction. No one would have thought Twitter would enable revolution, but the Arab Spring still happened.

The NYC gas explosion was livestreaming within minutesThe NYC gas explosion was livestreaming within minutes

Right now, the Comedy Central roast of Justin Bieber is trending right alongside the results of the Nigerian elections. Social media brings shape to conversations that could happen at the water cooler or at a community organizer meeting. Those conversations are publicized and tracked, and more people can easily find a way to chime in. Topics might mostly veer toward the Justin Bieber variety, but don’t forget #YesAllWomen and #ICantBreathe. “Hashtag activism,” as it’s been called, is now a huge social influence.

Hashtag activism is now a huge social influence.

Meerkat and Periscope give their users not only a new medium to share, but they also provide a built-in audience. That’s what differentiates them from traditional video sharing networks like YouTube or Ustream.Tv. While it’s pretty easy right now to say Periscope is leading the pack based on downloads, it’s not easy to predict one app’s permanent staying power in this arena. It’s all too new.

As usual, media people are trying to figure it out early, in a not-so-veiled attempt to be the first ones to say “I told you so!” But the only real constant in technology is change. So while everyone is scrambling to label Meerkat and Periscope as either “the new journalism” or “totally useless,” the truth is, they’ll probably morph into something else before we have much of a chance to make up our minds. Speculate on all the use cases you want—ultimately, the users will be the ones to decide.

About Liz Furze

The gal who won't stop posting Beyoncé gifs in work-related chat rooms