Every now and then Twitter works as a source of discussion, and today’s discussion was about alternatives to Twitch, YouTube, or Facebook in the wake of Mixer’s shut-down-and-sell-out announcement.
I mentioned in my previous post how the death of Microsoft-backed Mixer bodes ill for any other official startup in the streaming space, unless they’re trying to do something different (like Medal, which focuses on short clips) or chases a different demographic (like Caffeine, which seems to be leaning into the live event space). In many cases of socially-focused services when the Big Name fails (like Twitter), Smrt People organize to create some kind of community-provided replacement (like Mammoth).
We need this for livestreaming. At it’s core, the very most basic technology exists and isn’t all that difficult to set up, at least in a rudimentary way: an ingest server for streaming apps to connect to, and an endpoint for clients to connect to in order to view the livestream data. Yes, this is reductionist and there’s a lot of actual and technical leg-work involved, but I had done it once, it worked well enough for what it was, so if those aforementioned Smrt People want to get on that, then…get on it, I guess.
Rather than have another monolithic service set up as an umbrella for everyone under more favorable terms than what we have now (remember, Twitch used to be everyman Justin.tv, and Mixer used to be everyman Beam), we need a system more like Mammoth: a box of tools that anyone who wants to learn can set up, collected under a banner of interlinked discovery tools. What this could do for livestreaming is allow smaller streamers to band together and set up their own networks. They could customize it for their own “brand” and offer their own sub- or super-set of features that the general package provides (or they could add in new modules if they’re savvy enough). Following the Mammoth example, their presence, then, could roll up to a greater network that offers discovery of their group and/or individual streamers (I’d prefer discovery at the group level, as rising tides lift all boats and such). These groups could drive traffic to their own hosted presence, and offer other services such as articles, discussions, and merchandise, all flowing unimpeded from viewer to streamer.
All that sounds wonderful, easy, and very community focused, but as with everything that goes on these days, there’s a catch:
As Pete works on client-facing technology, he understands the pain that providers and creators have to deal with in our legal minefield of today’s public services. Tech is the relatively simple side to this equation, and it’s the safeguards that are the real headaches. I don’t know if creating a distributed, node-based network could rely on a centralized legal framework, or if each node would have to be responsible for it’s own actions. Of course if we also roll up services like tips and donation handling, merch creation and distribution, et al. at the central node, then aren’t we really just looking at another centralized, monolithic service?
For me, even if some enterprising group formed a company and worked out how to handle the heavy obstacles to allow groups of streamers to coalesce and set up their own streaming network node, I think there’s merit there. For one, it could do away with the tiered structure that drives these streaming platforms. For every Ninja, there are thousands of streamers who can’t get anyone to watch their streams at all. Pleb, affiliate, and partner striations create a social class structure that is meant to entice streamers to work for it, but discovery on these services suck, and viewers habits seem to preclude looking beyond a small subset of name-brand creators, meaning that no matter how hard a pleb streamer works, the chances of them never getting to partner status is massive. For another, in order to stream through this node-based system, a streamer would be encouraged to join an existing team and not just set up a mono-shingle on the Internet. This would have the benefit of streamers helping streamers, as boosting the visibility of the one could boost the visibility of all within that group. Right now there doesn’t seem to be any official mechanism for groups of streamers to band together for mutual support; I know that some streamers do this, and advertise their affiliation on their streaming page, but there’s nothing like “webrings” of old that can carry a viewer down-stream to another, similar streamer’s output.
I’m sure this is all just wishful thinking on my part, although if I were far more knowledgeable, had some disposable income, more time, and several other folks who were gung-ho about this, it might be worthwhile to at least investigate. If all of the legal and administrative landmines were cleared, I don’t know if there’s a downside to a distributed streaming network, with the exception that even among well-meaning communities who are able to create their own shadow service to replace another service that no longer suits their sensibilities, new networks can get just as insular and exclusionary as the ones they’re trying to replace. Right now, though, if you feel invisible on Twitch, annoyed by YouTube, and refuse to sully yourself in the pits of Facebook, you’re out of luck. Something more community focused could be exactly what we need to push livestreaming into the hands of a greater number of people.