What is Ghosting?
Everyday, viewers of the popular live-streaming app 'Periscope' make reference to something called ‘ghosting’.
What this means is, the viewer can make a comment and the broadcaster won’t see the comment on their screen. In many cases the viewer has to tap out another comment again to be seen.
This has been happening on the Periscope platform for an unusually long time now. Many broadcasters with large followings including myself are left wondering why doesn’t Periscope fix this key aspect in their social network as they continually update the app with new features. Many broadcasters have even raised the issue with Periscope who flat out deny they've ever been contacted about this issue and it's the first they've heard about it. Conspiracy theorists start your engines!
Broken comments don’t seem to be an important issue while at the same time live streaming is seen as the new frontier for social media when ‘engaging’ with large audiences. Periscope almost seems contradictory for its purpose.
Live-streaming is a brand new form of media, users say its more open, honest and being present live is what makes it all that much more tantalising, probably because you can influence the camera operator as well. But it appears Periscope is kneecapping itself with a frustrating experience for those who simply want to chat to their favourite broadcasters.
Here’s some reasons as to what I think is going on. Without Periscope to comment all I can do is guess. Let’s start with the biggest and probably the most egregious reasons.
Chat Flow Moderation
Many people on Periscope don’t understand that it's very likely that comments are ‘ghosting’ by design. Tyler Hansen a Periscope developer (search for @tyhan1 on Periscope) has actually explained an algorithm Periscope have been employing since before July of 2016 (July 2016 was when Tyler made his broadcast). You can still watch the original video in Tyler’s recent broadcast list titled "Periscope Designer. I want to talk about “broadcast too full”. If he deletes it after my mentions I have a copy of the video saved.
Tyler cites various reasons for employing such an algorithm towards the betterment of busy broadcasts on the network. If there are too many comments at any given time, the ‘chat flow’ is managed and various comments disappear from the broadcaster’s view. That means they don’t see the comment, but the other viewers actually do.
Periscope through Tyler make the point that these comments that disappear are probably useless to the broadcaster anyway.
So the argument goes, the chat is far to busy for a broadcaster to reply to everyone, and the algorithm is making decisions for the broadcaster as to what they should be able to respond to. I hope many of you see some of the problems stemming from this already. As an aside, how does this even scale? I don’t have actual written proof, but Tyler had stated that only 1 comment in 30, in busy scopes are managed. Does this scale? If not, why bother? If it does scale, to what extent?
I wouldn’t call it censorship per say, but can you imagine the uproar if Twitter decided not to deliver all the tweets on their network or iMessage and Snapchat decided to actively choose what they thought was best for you?
Another part of the argument for the system to be in place is to manage foreign language comments. I agree there is no value when somebody is typing in Russian to an English speaker or vice a versa (I still get those guys though in my broadcasts). I don’t know how Periscope determines the language preferences of the broadcaster, but I would make a guess at the keyboard and language preferences on the device are being looked at
My issue with this at the moment is Periscope doesn’t know which languages I speak if I don’t set up my preferences on the device accordingly.
My simple layman’s solution would be instead to deliver a pop-over message in the chat to a viewer that the language of the broadcaster is different to their own and any messages sent might not be understood. To me it’s more honest as the viewer understands whats happening much more clearly instead of just having their comments disappear. The experience is explained properly and they already have such a pop over when somebody types naughty words.
Removing comments doesn’t enhance the experience, it places blame on the broadcaster for being unresponsive.
There is a theory this chat management flow algorithm would benefit celebrities and gives viewers the illusion they can now communicate to their idols without hinderance. Maybe this is true, but it’s Periscope that is then actively ruining the experience for their platform.
We are such petty creatures and it does the Periscope platform no favours if people do not have an enjoyable experience when they don’t understand why their comments are being ignored. Frustrated viewers are going to tap ‘x’.
I preferred back in the day for the chatroom to have the ‘broadcast too full’ sign, that way I knew I could relax and just watch. I don’t need to always chat, somebody would probably chat for me. As Tyler explains, Periscope have felt the pressure from many people emailing them expressing their desire to chat in ANY given broadcast. Did Periscope understand scale from the very beginning?
Periscope themselves still haven’t communicated this very important change to their platform even though their main periscope account has at the time of writing 9.2 million follows. Tyler with his 17,000 followers has been the only person on record from Periscope to discuss this. Why?
Its actually been up to Periscope broadcasters to continually inform others of these changes through their own broadcasts everyday whenever there is an issue arising in the chat when the broadcaster doesn’t see them. This is ironic given the nature of Periscope, you would think disseminating this important information in an official manner would be easy peasy.
Periscope have a history of being poor communicators, the big issue last year was not explaining the distribution of hearts to broadcasters. Broadcasters who had found out, did the work of explaining the changes to their followers. This situation didn’t concern me much, but changes to the way the chat operates is a major aspect of the apps operation. It shouldn't just be tinkered with, with hardly a mention.
This needs to be discussed to the whole community without it turning kafkaesque.
Before we demand Periscope spill the beans on its inner workings. People need to remember all the little bugs inside Periscope. How large a part do they play? Periscope is probably more likely to have various bugs because it is so cutting edge in its application. We as viewers have to accept the app is buggier than we think. We just do okay? People complaining about frozen screens, missing audio and scopes suddenly quitting have to realise they are at the forefront of technology.
I bet many people haven't given a thought as to what is happening in the broadcast, the video stream for example operates independently of the chat stream and hearts. This is why in some cases the video and hearts continue to work even though comments don’t load or have you seen that burst of chat activity once a video connection is applied again? Something has probably caused packet loss and the app is trying to re-sync everything. This can explain why if you save videos to your camera roll, hearts and comments aren't saved also. It's a difficult technology to sync up.
Tyler in his broadcast has assured his viewers that mutual follows are unaffected by the chat moderation. Mutual followers are never moderated/filtered for their comments.
I doubted this at first, but then even in my own private scopes with less than 20 people watching, people would disappear and report 'ghosting' when messaging me afterwards. In some cases, all the comments and hearts stopped coming on my screen. Viewers are literally typing comments to me and I can't see them. My private broadcasts can’t be moderated during these broadcasts, these are bugs pure and simple, but I had to go through a long process to believe this wasn’t part of the designed ghosting experience that Tyler discussed.
My takeaway though is the user-end experience of such bugs in conjunction with the chat management features has us confused.
Periscope should be much more open to what they are doing on the platform. Audiences are reacting in real time now, we keep being told live-streaming is new media, but does Periscope truly understand how fast we can communicate now with this new media? Hear say becomes facts so quickly now.
Now, of course no company raises the issue of software bugs unless they are truly catastrophic, no software company will publicly address all the bugs and all the time. So things are better left unsaid unless its crippling the application in a very public fashion. For example, Periscope recently updated the app and DJI drones wouldn’t work through Periscope, somehow that bug slipped by and they had to reference it in the next update because it is a tentpole feature for broadcasters.
So why wouldn’t Periscope address the ghosting issue, it IS a larger issue for the platform beyond a few drones not being able to get on the network. Here are a few ideas
- It’s going to remain buggy.
- Periscope don’t care enough to fix it as they have other priorities.
- The management of comments is exactly what they want.
- The chat flow management isn’t actually a big issue, as it’s being applied to only busy broadcasts with an undetermined number of viewers inside, the ghosting we typically see are actually just the bugs.
- We as broadcasters are encountering something called the ‘Invisible Gorilla’ affect.
The lack of a true discussion of the chat management algorithm, the various bugs on the platform and the invisible gorilla create an even larger problem for Periscope. One where we conflate these issues into one against Periscope as wholly a conspiracy that they are manipulating the chat in every single scope.
The Invisible Gorilla
This is now possibly too famous for people not to know, but if you don’t, watch this video here.
In this video we are asked to count how many times is a ball passed between players wearing the same colour shirt. While this is happening, a gorilla comes onscreen. Many people don’t see the gorilla until it’s pointed out after what they missed.
In a second study for people who think if they concentrate hard enough they will catch all the weirdness of the first video a similar test is applied. I’m not going to spoil it so watch it here.
The second video proves that even if people concentrate, it makes things even worse. How do you feel? Knowing you are going to miss comments regardless? We collectively don’t want to feel like we don’t have control over the situation do we?
I would say a similar outcome is playing out before our eyes while broadcasting. There is no escaping the fact we are going to miss comments no matter what and then later attribute this to Periscope ‘ghosting’ the comments. Of course with this Gorilla theory put forward, we have to doubt ourselves and give Periscope some slack.
Try this mental_floss exercise, watch your own eyes actively work against you as you try to see all the dots at any given time. Ain’t happening yo. Please remember, in the last video and the mental_floss article, you're aware to this trickery now. Imagine what it was like before.
It isn’t Periscope’s job to educate us to this path of disappointment for live streaming. It isn’t normally something we should have to deal with either. We are hitting the limits of human concentration. Just like the software bugs, we are possibly placing too much on Periscope's shoulders when determining how negligent they are being towards the community.
I don’t believe in complaining about something unless I’m providing a solution or solutions. This is what I think Periscope can do and should do.
- Let broadcasters have control over the scroll speed in their own scopes, or at least slow it down in a way that’s managing the speed of the comments in real time rather than look at what comments should be there how or not.
- Turn off flow moderation, we can’t see all the comments even with 'help' from Periscope.
- Redesign the chat so the broadcaster can scroll through the comments, you don’t even need to change the visual aspects of the UI. Allow broadcasters with a swipe to go back and forth through the comments like they do on Facebook. Periscope is treating the comments as a people problem when it is actually a technical problem. This is the most baffling aspect as Facebook are using what I think is the answer even though Facebook operates at a much larger scale. What is the excuse here Periscope?
- Speak to the community properly and explain changes to the network otherwise hearsay runs rampant. Periscope have something that only Youtube has (From Periscope’s perspective Youtube would be a great case study in how not to piss off your community). Both social networks have love from communities in abundance, these apps should be a pleasure to use as a viewer and work like a charm for creators. Don’t make the community use your app only because there isn’t anything better out there.
These solutions should benefit everyone, if you disagree I'm listening. I didn't write this article out of dislike for anyone in particular at Periscope so please don't take this personal, especially Tyler, he's just the only one putting himself in the positions I find him in because HE also cares about the platform, we just need to understand each other better, hence my desire for Periscope to be more communicative. It can only bring benefits, again using YouTube as the case study, YouTube aren't open nearly enough towards their community and money IS involved between network providers and its creators. How annoyed are we going to be when the platform is monetized?
Periscope, you need to do what Apple does and control the message. It's one reason why I do my satirical fake features on Periscope, because I can get away with it, people believe any old shit and the rumours stick around for months on end. Some of you at PeriscopeHQ have noticed me by now, there is a serious point being served by my joke scopes.
I hope Periscope change their attitude as a whole before serious monetising of the platform occurs. If nothing else, explain comment flow moderation on your main channel and stop leaving your users in the dark.