On Teleportation

I remember the first time I heard of a real product described as a teleportation machine. It was only a couple of years ago, actually. A founder of a popular photo sharing network described the ultimate purpose of his product as a means to teleport anywhere around the world. I remember reading that sentence and thinking “this is a really great product, but it doesn’t actually make me feel like that.”

Maybe it was the fact that individual photos only provide a split-second glance into someone’s world. Maybe it was that filtering, cropping, and opportunistic life-editing sometimes creates a veneer that doesn’t feel like real life. Most of all though, I think it’s because the experience wasn’t live.

The difference between something typed or captured minutes before you see it and something you experience simultaneously — cooperatively — with the person doing the broadcasting is transformative.

The very first time I saw an early Periscope alpha last year I was astounded. In going through the hundreds of apps on my phone right now, I can only find five that blew me away on the very first use: Uber, Postmates, Shazam, Dark Sky, and Periscope. My approximate reactions the first time I used all five:

Uber: You mean I can press a button, a car will appear, and it will take me wherever I want???

Postmates: You mean I can press a few buttons and food from any restaurant I choose will be delivered to my doorstep within an hour???

Shazam: You mean I can hold my phone up and it will tell me whatever song is playing???

Dark Sky: You mean this app will tell me exactly when it is going to rain at the exact spot where I am standing???

Periscope: You mean I can experience something live anywhere around the world through someone else’s eyes???

Obviously, these five products are on vastly different scales in terms of usefulness. As cool as Shazam is, I don’t actually need to identify music very often. Now that I live in California, there’s little rain for Dark Sky to warn me about. As useful as Uber is, I prefer to use Lyft. Postmates, I can’t get enough of.

But Periscope… this thing gets more and more amazing every time I use it.

I’ve witnessed baby chicks hatch live at a Texas fair. I’ve ridden along in the cockpit of someone’s plane. I’ve enjoyed concerts I didn’t even want to be at in the first place because I could dip in and dip out from my living room. I’ve shared my own panoramic view from the top of Mt. Tam with a bunch of people who weren’t lucky enough to be hiking that beautiful day.

… and this is all during the private beta period with only a few hundred people using the app.

It doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to think of the thousands of ways Periscope will be used now that we’ve released it to the world. Musicians doing intimate shows from their back porches. Extreme sports athletes taking people along on their adventures. Friends sharing raw, live experiences from their travels instead of just manicured snapshots. And oh the breaking news.

If you happen to be witnessing the most interesting thing in the world at any given time, a billion people can join you in a matter of seconds.

One of the most exciting things about Periscope is that it is a product arriving at the exact moment in history when the world is ready for it. If you released it three years ago, it wouldn’t have worked because cellular networks weren’t fast enough yet. If you released it even one year ago, it wouldn’t have worked because video encoding on phones was too slow.

Being too early with a great idea is noble but often fruitless. Being too late is imitative. Being there when revolution meets readiness, though, is wonderful.

Periscope won’t be perfect from the get-go as Kayvon and his amazing crew tackle issues like unpredictable network conditions around the world, sensitive content, and general social scaling, but I’ve never been more excited about an app in my life as I am about Periscope. It is the only technology that’s ever made me feel like I was actually in another place.

It will also be interesting to see how other companies craft their own experiences around live video. There will undoubtedly be many different approaches of varying quality and taste. Long before Periscope was part of the Twitter family, I was incredibly impressed with the thoughtfulness of the product experience.

As a designer, I always root for the best experiences to win.

It’s interesting that we’ve spent centuries wondering if teleportation was possible and now decades trying to simulate it with quantum physics. Imagine for a second that it were actually possible. Do you know how inconvenient that would actually be? You’d hear about an amazing sunset over Machu Picchu, beam yourself there, and 50,000 other people would physically appear right after you showed up. You’d spend a week climbing Mt. Everest and a pack of noisy teleporters in ski jackets would already be at the top taking selfies.

The most fulfilling experiences in life require effort, and I’m not sure that’s something we want to change. Maybe what we’ve wanted all along isn’t actual teleportation but merely the convincing, immersive feeling of being somewhere else, for precisely as long as we choose. A preview of what it might be like were we to one day make the trip; experience the activity; meet the person.

Maybe it turns out the best teleportation machine is the one you already have with you.

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