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Meerkat Will “Rattle the Cage” of Wall Street’s “Squirrely” Break-In Calls

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A new mobile app called Meerkat was all the rage at the recent South by Southwest (sxsw.com) tech startup conference. The app enables users to stream live video to their followers, either at their whim, or by scheduling a video for a later time. All notifications from Meerkat are transmitted on Twitter, and users can set up alerts that notify them when one of their Twitter connections has a live video underway.

The immediacy of Meerkat’s live streaming, and its lack of video archiving, seem to be the way things are headed on the Web. If you miss a “live” video, there’s no replay or archiving capability. The videos disappear into the ether. Meerkat seems to have tapped into the same verve that got Mark Cuban excited when he started Cyberdust, an instant-messaging (IM) app that leaves no records of messages sent. 

In Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, author Douglas Rushkoff describes how society’s framework for perceiving events evolved from forward-looking futurism, to an almost obsessive preoccupation with what’s happening right now. Rushkoff explains this phenomenon of “narrative collapse.” Live-streaming video and vanishing instant messages represent the most recent manifestation of this narrative collapse.

In his latest blog article, StockTwits CEO and angel investor, Howard Lindzon, intimates that he is “making … notes and organizing … product thoughts,” as he reflects on Meerkat’s potential to disrupt financial markets. He seems to envision a financial media product idea that “won’t be kind to cable and incumbents.” Given his product development and entrepreneurial experience, I’m sure he has something interesting in mind.

When I think about Meerkat’s impact on finance, my mind goes in a different direction. I spent twenty years on Wall Street, where analysts respond to real-time, stock-moving events by doing a “break-in” call on the firm-wide intercom system, known as the “hoot ‘n’ holler.” A product manager might give the firm’s salesforce a head’s up, with an announcement that “Brian Egger will have a break-in call in two minutes.” 

Sometimes these calls reflect an analyst’s “quick take” on corporate or industry news. In other instances, an analyst might report findings from a management meeting or industry conference. These verbal comments would be followed by a short “flash” note that would be disseminated to the firm’s clients.  

The idea of live-streaming video trumps Wall Street’s somewhat clumsy efforts to deliver real-time commentary. The Street’s current process requires analysts to script their thoughts, await an opening on the hoot-‘n’-holler to break in, and then wait for the firm’s busy traders and salespeople to distill their comments and convey them by phone or IM to investor clients.

Wall Street firms have to ensure that analyst comments, and their written-form post-scripts, comply with internal and regulatory rules. The compliance rules make for a protracted process. With more financial market conversations occurring in “real” real time, facilitated by tools like Twitter, StockTwits, and Meerkat, research analysts may soon face a new challenge to their traditional role as “on the scene” market commentators. The fact that Wall Street must devote much of its time to “archiving” all that is said and written by analysts is another reason why the brokerage community is out-of-step with the latest developments in online communications. 

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