If you’ve spent any amount of time on the internet, chances are you’ve come across Ustream. The company’s focus is streaming-as-broadcasting, with a platform designed to scale to support hundreds of thousands of simultaneous viewers during live events like last week’s Curiosity Mars rover landing. Now, the company is using its broadcasting know-how to let you share video to your friends’ Facebook News Feeds with a new mobile app called BFF, or "Broadcast for Friends."
Friends can view your broadcast right in their News Feeds
With BFF, Ustream is trying to make online broadcasting as simple as possible. After you give the app the go-ahead to use your Facebook account, it uses some onscreen arrows to call out all of the UI elements (not that they’re difficult to figure out), then immediately lets you start recording. When you tap the big "Broadcast" button to get going the app first tests your network to make sure you have the bandwidth to stream video, then asks who you want to broadcast to — just yourself, your friends, or the general public. Choosing the latter two will add a post to your friends’ News Feeds that they can click to watch the stream, just like playing any other embedded video. The audience can then like the stream or comment on it; events that show up as notifications to the person doing the broadcasting. After the broadcast is over, BFF follows the Ustream model by leaving a persistent version of the recorded video in its place.
Back on the phone you have access to all of your past streams just by tapping the profile picture in the top left corner. The only downside is that there isn’t much control. Currently there’s no way to delete past streams from within the app or to view those videos outside of it — say from a BFF web interface.
What would an app be without filters?
Of course, being a camera-based app launching in 2012, BFF comes with the requisite assortment of filters, and you can switch between them while you’re on air. The same is true of switching between the front and rear cameras. One thing we noticed during testing was that shooting in landscape inexplicably rotates all of the UI elements back to their portrait orientations momentarily every time you get a notification, but hopefully that gets ironed out in a future release.
The Ustream team tells us that the iPhone app is still awaiting approval from Apple, so we might not see it released until early in September. And as for Android, we’re told an app is planned for sometime in the future.
It’s easy to draw comparisons between BFF and Google+’s Hangouts, but the two are really different animals. While tools like Hangouts and Skype are great for multipoint conferencing, BFF is Ustream simplified; an easy way to share a live event with a large number of friends simultaneously. The idea is much closer to Color — another broadcasting app for iOS and Android, although a key difference is BFF's ability to support broadcasts much longer than the 1-minute limit of its competitor. And like its big brother, Ustream, BFF supports unlimited viewership — overkill for most people, but it's good to know it's there. To be sure, users looking for a lot of flexibility are going to be better served by Ustream’s existing apps. But if you’re just looking to share live video from your phone with your Facebook friends — whether you have a couple or a couple thousand — BFF is the simplest solution you could ask for.