The year of the live stream: Periscope named top app of 2015

Apple has named Periscope – which allows users to live-stream their life – the 'App of the Year.' Here's why 2015 was the year of the live stream.

Live first-person video helped shape our experience of some of the year's biggest stories

Flying over the city in a helicopter? You can live-stream that. (Anthony Quintano / Flickr)

It's official — 2015 is the year of the live feed. 

Case in point? Apple has named Periscope – which allows users to live-stream their life – the 'App of the Year'. 

The decision shouldn't come as a surprise. Live first-person video shaped our experience of some of the year's biggest stories.

When the app launched, people weren't quite sure what to do with it. Users began by live streaming meetings and the inside of their refrigerators. In March, the internet was obsessed with the voyeuristic hashtags #fridgeview or #showusyourfridge.

But then riots broke out in Baltimore. 

I was able to feel like I was there at an arms length because I couldn't physically be there at the time.- Ashley Lewis, Ryerson University

This summer, 25-year-old Freddie Gray died in police custody. As people took to the streets to demand justice, Periscope gave the rest of the world a glimpse into the protests. All of a sudden, people were telling their own story and framing their own images: of their communities, and their struggles. 

Ashley Lewis, a new media instructor at Ryerson University, was following the events in Baltimore closely. She had booked a flight to go show her support. But then, flights to the city started getting cancelled. 

"So I wasn't able to go," said Lewis, who soon discovered that much of the protest was being broadcast on Periscope.

"I was able to feel like I was there at an arms length because I couldn't physically be there at the time."

But live, un-censored video also presents new, previously inconceivable challenges.

Just a few months ago, a shooter in Virginia murdered journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward as they were taping the morning news. He broadcast the carnage in a choreographed display across social media.

The tragedy sparked a new debate over regulation and censorship. In an era where anyone with a smartphone is capable of creating and broadcasting content, are there any gatekeepers deciding when content is too graphic or hateful for mass-broadcast? Should there be? 

Last month's swearing-in ceremony was broadcast live via Periscope. (Periscope/CBC News screenshot)
Heading into 2016, real-time video is one of the biggest online trends to watch. 

Will it make us more empathic? More connected to parts of the world we can't visit? Or will we get burned out from the constant influx of live, un-filtered video?

There is a real danger of digital rubbernecking when a tragic event occurs. It's hard to look away, and yet, it's emotionally draining to stay glued to the screen.

Unless you can do something. And that's one of the truly amazing aspects of the real-time video ecosystem: by moving beyond the traditional gatekeepers of media, we get to hear from real people impacted by the stories in the headlines.

If your voice wasn't represented before, now it can be. What will you show the world? For the first time in history, that's not a rhetorical question.

About the Author

Ramona Pringle

Technology Columnist

Ramona Pringle is an associate professor in the RTA School of Media and director of the Transmedia Zone at Ryerson University. She is a CBC contributor who writes and reports on the relationship between people and technology.


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