Periscope Adds a New Map Feature. But It Still Hasn’t Found Its Way.

Periscope has literally dozens of active users in the Americas.

Screen capture from Periscope app

When Periscope, the Twitter-based live video-streaming app, launched in March, I was skeptical about its ability to change the way we make and consume news. Part of the problem, I suggested at the time, was that the app made it difficult to find streams dedicated to in-progress events. Unless someone you follow on Twitter happens to be on the scene, you may be out of luck.

Now, Periscope is looking to fix that problem. As TechCrunch reports, the company has recently updated the iOS version of the app, adding a feature that offers a map of current live streams around the world. Users can zoom in on cities and even neighborhoods, making the app far more useful for those in search of breaking news. Like Twitter’s updated front page, this addition should serve as a finding aid for those with little to no investment in the app itself, giving them a window on its most exciting trends and developments.

That’s the theory, anyway. In practice, Periscope appears to be as banal as ever. When I first visited the map, I noticed that there were a host of streamers in Turkey—almost as many, at some points, as in all of North America. Maybe all that activity is related to the country’s current round of high-stakes elections, I thought. Upon scrolling through feeds, however, I was disappointed to find that none appeared to be particularly dramatic. There may be news to be found somewhere on the map, but those hoping to discover it will still have to dig.

More generally, the update offers a critical insight into Periscope’s bigger problem: There just aren’t that many people using it. Eyeballing the constantly updating map, I counted no more than a few hundred users at any given time. Periscope has declined to announce how many active streamers it has, but it claims that users watch 10 years’ worth of content per day. It’s not altogether clear what they’re watching. My own brief survey of the world’s Periscopers suggests that they don’t have that many channels to choose from.

There are other issues, especially with regard to privacy. Although Periscope doesn’t offer exact addresses for the origins of streams, it comes close. Zoom in enough and you can narrow down the source of a stream to within a few blocks. While this metric is imprecise, it may be enough to raise important concerns for those using the app to film events like protests, where participation might get them into trouble—especially in authoritarian countries.

While the map update is a step in the right direction, Periscope isn’t yet offering an unobstructed view.