Episode 5. What is streaming?

Live streaming technology has been around for a long time but it gained a new lease of life when it was adopted by gamers on platforms like Twitch.

Michael’s done a lot of streaming but Ivanka, not so much. This episode is an exploration of the features and motivations behind the weird wild west that is the world of live streaming.

Think of it like you’re in a house share and watching your friend play a game while you hang out and chat. That’s basically Twitch.

Another way to think about it is like a podcast with visuals.

There’s a whole sex industry around this too but nowadays it’s a much more regular part of regular businesses.

Chat is a bit like radio where the audience can call in.

How do you connect?

To broadcast, you need a desktop app like OBS or Ecamm Live.

You have a choice of platforms these days. Twitch is good for games but YouTube, Facebook and Instagram handle different audiences.

You get a stream key from your platform and plug this into OBS and you can go live just like that. Then you’re broadcasting like a radio or TV station.

How do people find you?

It depends on what game you’re playing usually on Twitch. People can find you via categories or tags. On YouTube discovery works the way anything else works online – if you have a lot of subscribers or Twitter followers you’ll do better. You’re relying on external platforms to drive traffic.

Behaviour is different between platforms. Twitch people will join for hours. Facebook people will scroll past you. People on Twitch are quite generous. YouTube has versions of Twitch’s features but a very different culture. You feel like you’re friends with people on Twitch more than other places.

There’s major inequality among streamers, just like anywhere else. Link to Twitch Leak.

Do you have to use a desktop computer to stream?

You don’t have to use a desktop – the apps have streaming functionality. And things like the IRL Backpack exist. “IRL Streaming” is when you’re out and about.

Is it difficult? What does it feel like?

It takes practice to be able to pull off a stream and talk to yourself for hours on end. Not every streamer is good at talking, and most of what you see on the streaming platforms is people muttering and having a bad day.

The viewer count can have a negative impact on your motivation. When you can see nobody’s listening it’s hard to keep up the energy. Even seeing the number going up and down can be distracting. Sometimes, if nobody’s talking, the viewer count all you have. You can turn off the viewer count in the Twitch and it does make for a better broadcast, particularly if you want to use the recording in another way down the line.

It’s very much improved when it’s interactive. Funny people in chat can add to the vibe. There’s a strange feeling when you say something in chat and the streamer speaks to you directly by name. For a lot of people it’s almost like a proof of their existence when a streamer responds. But there’s a strange social obligation to saying something on chat. The streamer might ask you something.

It’s a bit like radio for young people, or slow TV, but it’s the interaction that’s interesting.

Both gaming and the sex industry have driven a lot of technological innovation.

Streaming over the years

We regularly streamed to the internet back at Canonical. Not always video but audio. But it was treated more as a broadcast than an invitation to participate. When we talk about working in the open, the blog post is there to broadcast but also to invite comment. If you just had a stream from your office it doesn’t have the interaction.

Twitch was crazy and illegal feeling when it started out. Twitch still has some “borderline” content but it feels more legit these days.

In the old days there were people who loved and relied on the live streams but it felt more alien to us. But it was a good way of involving people.

Video is a whole thing. A lot of our brain is “eye stuff”. It adds a lot to our experience. The ability of anybody to fire up a webcam puts us all on the same footing somehow.

Interacting with streamers and understanding the financial model

There are different ways to get recognised by the streamer, especially as they get bigger. It’s not just a dry video feed, there are overlays with data and alerts coming in. Tools like StreamElements. If somebody follows, their name can appear on the screen. Or a donation can trigger an overlay. Or a subscription. People do it. Sometime this gives you special privileges on Twitch or Discord and you build status in the community. Emotes are unlocked. Social hierarchies develop. Streamers are raising money, having goals, chat are engaging with it. People are unusually generous in the situation. People donate $10, $20, $50, $100 to streamers as they play. CobaltStreak made like $20k in a few days when new Isaac came out. Some people make a living doing this. But is that so crazy? Michael is behind it because so much of “real” work is performative and status-driven these days – it’s all a game so why not just let people play games?

How is it different to presenting?

You’ve got to check chat when you’re live. It’s an interactive experience. Setting up a workshop in a room or webinars seems like an obvious thing but it’s a different dynamic – streaming is more of a continuous engagement than a lecture or presentation.

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