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Seesmic Transcends Comparisons With Twitter

Loic Le Meur’s short video messaging system Seesmic made a number of announcements here at DEMO but when I got to sit down with him, that wasn’t the subject of our conversation.

I wanted to talk about microblogging as a phenomenon, but the biggest take away I found from our conversation is the Seesmic’s short video messaging is really different from Twitter. Both are important but so are the differences between them.

What Was Announced

The company announced a series of integrations with services like Shozu, to enable hundreds of phone models to upload video, and Qik, so that the live video service for Nokia phones can have an added layer of community.

Also forthcoming from Seesmic is the ability to form groups in addition to the threaded conversations going on there now and a regular video show made up of each day’s highlighted user contributions. That sounds very cool and it’s unlikely that something like this would work with Twitter. Twitter hosts different kinds of conversations.

Better integration of existing community features into Seesmic made up the rest of the announcements – but what’s all the fuss? Why has this service in closed Alpha got so much community to integrate already anyway?

Similarities With Twitter

Much of what’s notable about Seesmic is relatively unoriginal; the company has learned from other online communities and improved upon what used to be the best practices. The interface is beautiful, too. The most common way to explain Seesmic so far, though, has been to call it “like video Twitter.” In talking with Lemur though I found out that the comparison only goes so far.

Like Twitter, though, the proof may be in the pudding for Seesmic. Tell a cynic that Twitter reported on the last big Mexico City earthquake before the USGS or any other media did, or tell them that Twitter was used widely in citizen reporting of the San Diego fires, and that short messaging service will begin to make more sense. I tell people that Twitter pays my rent, and they can believe it or not – my rent is getting paid, downtime notwithstanding.

Also like Twitter, there’s a lot of value in the mundane and human interaction that goes on at Seesmic. With 4,000 early users from all around the world people do small things together and find meaning in them.

Seesmic in Use

I asked Seesmic users what some of there most meaningful experiences using the service have been and got 6 video replies in 20 minutes. It made me happy and gave me a lot to think about. The replies keep coming but unfortunately the ability to view them in the standalone player is still in the “coming soon” column.

Twitter’s 140 character messages are a fundamentally different thing than Seesmic’s video replies, which Le Meur told me average about three minutes in length. I get replies to questions I ask on Twitter regularly, but the user experience with video was head and shoulders more engaging. It probably also limited respondents to a group of people willing to do a video reply, presumably a much smaller number of people in this world.

Le Meur told me about three particularly interesting use cases.

When Benazir Bhuto was assassinated in Pakistan Le Meur says that the conversation quickly became more informative and interesting than the mainstream media’s reruns of the same limited photos and news updates on the topic. Whole threads of conversation focused on issues like gender in politics, for example. A lot of conversation about the same topic went on at Twitter, but short text is harder to express more complex thoughts and feelings through and there’s no threaded conversations there.

The second example Le Meur offered was a business oriented one. In talking to representatives of cosmetic company Loreal, the question of advertisements on Seesmic came up. Le Meur asked the community and the replies were of such interest that Loreal went on the have a series of conversations on the service about what kinds of promotional activities Seesmic users would be interested in. Whether companies are sponsoring certain groups and threads or using Seesmic as a place for spontaneous global focus groups, the path to monetization seems pretty clear. Twitter does not offer the same kind of opportunities and this difference is probably one of the most signifigant to the long term viability of the services.

The final example of a compelling Seesmic use case was conversations around the US Presidential election. Le Meur says that threaded conversations in video are uniquely useful on the topic. I didn’t find that use case as compelling as others but Elizabeth McLaury Lewin has some good stories to tell about her election experiences on Seesmic and Goldie Katsu had a long reply about how political discussions on Seesmic are more engaging than others online. Many of the Presidential candidates this year have used UStream to have live video conversations with voters, but that’s far more passive and there are already serious scaling issues at UStream.

What Makes Seesmic Different

There appear to be two primary factors behind the early enthusiasm for Seesmic. The first is that it’s very well executed. Le Meur is the former head of SixApart Europe, the company hired Ben Metcalfe as an early consultant and there must be a number of other very social-media savvy people there whom I haven’t met yet. The company takes feature requests via a public video thread. They hired at least one very skilled Flash designer. Usability is fairly high, it’s very easy to record a video on Seesmic and there’s literally zero turn-around time before your video is available in the public timeline and as a reply if appropriate. Can the company continue to scale? That will be a big question.

Aside from that, there’s something about a video-only environment that yields a level of personal accountability and quality discourse that you don’t find on other services. It’s a small, yet global, and very welcoming community. Many entrepreneurs claim that their community of users are the key to their momentum – but at Seesmic you can see the faces and hear the voices that prove it.

If you’d like to get into the Seesmic alpha, send me an email at [email protected] and include the word Seesmic in your subject line. I’ll be getting 100 invite codes for the first people who reply.

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