Scaling Seesmic

Yesterday, I saw Loïc make a plea for people to come in & make video quickly to show to a journalist, Erika Brown, who he was talking to over breakfast.

So we piled in with gusto, naturally. This is not new. I’ve seen people ask for irc contributions, blog comments, blog posts using tags, tweets usually from the stage of a conference or a demo they’re doing somewhere, to show the network effect – that the net is alive and full of people and doing stuff all the time. I still think it’s cool.

Apparently later (according to Loïc’s daily summary) she was asking why we do this stuff – what’s in it for us. Good question. Don’t know the answer, but don’t think I’m not thinking about it. (BTW – I worry though that when someone outside the group asks “what’s in it for the people in this group?” they’re actually asking “and how can I exploit it in some way?” ie “What’s in this phenomenon for me?” but that’s a whole other lifetime’s blogging)

I have been thinking though about what happens when they try to scale seesmic up. Right now, there are two interfaces essentially – one is the public timeline with every post in it (though it can be filtered for friends and for my vids too) and the other is twitter which announces new videos if the user has provided her twitter details. I’m following this by tracking</a “seesmic” in twitter, so I see everyone regardless of whether I follow them in twitter or not (keep up!) *and* I see every other reference to the word “seesmic” too. Clearly I’m obsessed.

Now this is something we’ve seen before. What starts as a little trickle, becomes a steady stream, becomes a mighty torrent of unmanageable information. Weblogs.com started out like this but was in stream/minor tributary mode when I first saw it. Ah me, I used to love to sit at audio.weblogs.com late in 2004, CTRL+F5′ing to see what was new. When I joined twitter about a year ago I had about 10 friends and some of them were in way different time zones – minutes would go by without an update – now I have it running in my im window and it’s like a constant ticker tape – in fact it’s now going too fast.

Seesmic will (probably) follow the same pattern in terms of the increase in the number and rate of contributions. What I’m interested in, is what happens when seesmic becomes like audio.weblogs.com today. Now at the beginning, although there were some podcast directories, audio.weblogs.com was the best place to go because you could see everything and everything was worth at least a glance at the title. So what happens when the public timeline is whizzing past as fast as weblogs.com? What about when my friends list whizzes as fast as twitter. Well, I’ll miss stuff, that’s for sure, I’m missing stuff on twitter and in my feed reader right now because I’m writing, but the other problem is that while twitter can be scanned, if I want to find out what a seesmers just said, I have to click and open a video. The only way I can see is RSS (with enclosures, I think too – gulp!). This is why I’ve made a feature request for (at least) my feed, a feed of my friends and a public timeline feed. I also want to see feeds for particular tags. We can’t see this metadata at the moment, but I’m filling it in (are you?). And then I want a big tag cloud so that I can follow the zeitgeist of seesmic and dip into a feed based on tags. So I’m expecting that I will then subscribe to certain feeds and go to seesmic from time to time to dip into stuff that I’m not subscribed to. Oy! I think I might like to keep seesmic down to a manageable little community of 150 diverse international shiny new toy freaks :)

Now, this brings us back to Erika’s question: “What’s in it for us?” Why do I do this? Why am I obsessed with shiny new toys like this? Because I like being part of this little group – just like podcasting was 3 years ago. And I want everyone to have the chance to have this experience. Why do I choose some and not others. Well a big differentiating factor is in the previous paragraph – I’ll repeat it – I made a feature request and I’m sure it will be considered and may get somewhere if it’s thought a good idea by the community. Why am I sure? Because I made the feature request that we should have voting on feature request, and it was implemented. So now we’re voting on what things we’d like to see. That’s what’s in it for me, a small bit of satisfaction that an idea I had sitting at a screen in London could ping around the world and get created before my very eyes *and* I believe that I’m not special, if it can happen to me, it can happen for everyone, if they want it.

No screenshot to go with this, can’t be arsed to edit – is there a skitch clone for Windows?

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7 thoughts on “Scaling Seesmic”

  1. Great points.

    I got my Seesmic invite yesterday. Haven’t had enough time to play with it really, but it needs all the metadata you talk about and more.

    A big list or RSS aggregation are not going to cut it.
    Twitter and Youtube are both about Surfing and Conversation.

    If they want to make it into a truly conversational experience, they’re going to need threads of some kind, and imaginative ways for people to stumble across videos and riff off each other.

    They could do worse than rip off a few ideas from Youtube. Youtube’s success has been built on two big things: 1) total disregard for copyright enforcement and 2) the Related Videos panel & the suggestions for what to watch next which pop up after you watch a video, which lead to hours lost surfing YouTube – often spookily accurately referred by tags and words in title & description (YT only allow 6 tags, i think, which focusses the uploader’s mind better than allowing lots). Other smaller things that have helped them have been the video comments feature and the Record-From-Webcam feature which makes it easy to comment.

    So after Seesmic make surfing and finding videos easy with good metadata, they can improve the conversational experience by developing good conversation tools. Comments RSS, email notifications are all good, but how about a timeline based comments system, like crowdabout.us or viddler.com?

    Twitter’s great success is the brevity and the ability to scan and converse. It doesn’t matter if you miss stuff – you catch what comes by, and chat about it. The people feel feel they need to invest lots of time and stay tuned or they’ll miss out, you lose them.

    So I think Seesmic should encourage very short video – the video equivalent of 140 chars. My friend Heath has just started vlogging using his mobile phone at http://mobilevlog.blogspot.com – it has a 30 second limit which means he creates very Twitter-like videos. Perhaps Seesmic should create two tiers of video – one with a 30 second limit, and another for people who feel the need to make something longer. I bet the 30 Second Videos will prove popular. People can tell that something’s going to be short & sweet. And it’ll keep individual entries relatively inconsequential, so the will-this-waste-my-time risk of clicking on something will be hugely reduced AND people won’t feel they’re going to miss out if they don’t watch every video.

    Then they could have separate tabs: a 30-second-video Timeline, which would be like video Twitter; as well as a Longer Videos Timeline, and All Videos. Perhaps the icons for 30 second videos could have a green border and Longer videos a blue border, so people knew what they were getting into at a glance.

    Then, add the metadata and threading, and let the conversation flow…

  2. “So much for brevity” – heh! get your own blog, you bugger :D

    thanks for all of this – I should have said, I can only think of RSS, but I’m sure there are lots of other ways of skinning this cat.

    No matter what, I think that the answer is to provide as many different ways to share, aggregate, comment, mix and match as possible and let the users decide *how* they want to do it. We don’t all have to do it the same way :)

    So threading for example is fine, as long as each item in the thread can also be treated as a stand alone item, recognising that the threaded conversation it started off in is just one way of organising it. So effectively one of it’s tags is is-in-reply-to-X.

    There also needs to be some neat way of directing attention or addressing another user – like @ruperthowe in twitter – again, not sure whether it should replicate the twitter syntax/functionality or let that emerge from use (which after all is what twitter did in the first place).

    I like the idea of limitation being the norm but rambling being a possibility – we had the whole “5 minutes” conversation over the weekend which was basically the same. 30s feels a lot more ruthless than 5m tho’ :)

    seesmic as the love child of twitter and YT is an interesting one, probably a gapingvoid cartoon before long….

  3. Hello Lloyd, Hello Rupert!

    Thank you for this very interesting feedback about Seesmic! It’s so stimulating to know more about what people want, and to integrate their ideas, so the product become closer to them.

    This is exactly what we have been trying from the beginning, Loic ‘documenting’ the creation of the company as we go, and making people part of the story, building the platform with them.

    This certainly has a two sides effect because we took the choice to open early (as the pre-alpha state :) ), and correct bugs with our users on the run, trying to consider each feature request, and sometime implementing it asap when the feature sounds like a killer ( like with the vote system ;) ) The downside being that we already have tons of people waiting an invite, and we hate being deceptive by asking them to wait, because we are just not technically ready. But we want to eventually reshape and implement what our first alpha users (testers?) want, before opening the site more widely.

    To talk a bit about your writing on metadatas, and organisation of videos, I think you hit a very good point here. Right now it’s kind of ok to organize things like they are because the stream of update is slow. We have been thinking from the beginning about the way we’re going to organize videos since it’s not a content which is easily ‘searchable’, and I think (I hope) we have a good grasp about how to improve this.

    My technical point of view on this is that the metadata should be as rich as the client interface, and both are very tighly tied. Having new way to annotate video requires new ways to visually organize them, and we are looking forward to try new things in this area.

    You make a good point saying that people dont have the same way to organize their stuff, which is also why we’ll provide Open APIs wherever it’s needed!

    Keep the ideas flowing Lloyd! (and post more songs we love them! )

    Johann

  4. Hi,
    I enjoyed reading your extremely detailed article and am getting nervous to test seesmic. If you could provide me with an invite, I`d be extremely happy.
    thanks in advance
    best
    michael

  5. Hi Michael, I don’t have that power I’m afraid – for now all the invites are coming centrally from Loïc himself. I’d suggest following him on twitter, is handle is loiclemeur – or tracking the word ‘seesmic’ on twitter if you’re really that in need, but beware! there’s an increasing amount of traffic on that track :)

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