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Dean Whitbread 2013

Dean Whitbread 2020

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Written on November 12, 2009, and categorized as Secret and Invisible.
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Woke up after four hours sleep this morning, and started singing. I haven’t done that for a long time, and the reason that I was so happy was that I had attended a spontaneous meetup online with a small bunch of some of my favourite people in the world, the original Seesmic crowd.

As we were discussing those early days of 2007/8 on Twitter, a bunch of us even went onto Seesmic to discuss the phenomenon that was Seesmic Alpha, somewhat nostalgically, but also with some forensic analysis, the gift of perspective, lessons learned, and hindsight.

Was it really three years ago that I stumbled into a video community portal, and made three hundred friends? The joys of the next day’s sleep deprivation were countered by the thrill of finding yourself in the next Seesmix, a round up of the best of that week.

While that naked, naive delight and disregard for our dayjobs will never happen again, still nothing yet exists which does what Seesmic did in its early alpha phase – bringing people together to chat, improvise, play, sympathise, debate, and innovate.

Seesmic *was* the birth of interwebs rock n roll, and we were it. As Annie Boccio put it, to much agreement, it was the “Perfect Storm“.

We’ve all moved on, but I can’t help thinking that a great and glorious opportunity was missed.

Other networks (Phreadz, 12 Seconds) never provided the same kind of sometimes frustrating but frequently rewarding experience of Seesmic, and there are definable reasons for this.

It’s not rocket science why Seesmic Alpha rocked. There was much protest when the community became second priority to revenue as the site opened, and this was the main reason that the interest of the core early adopters waned and ultimately vanished. Really, it is as simple as that.The focus shifted to heavy-handedly seeding content rather than sustaining and building the community, who were, except for a small group of employees, producing hours of engaged material.

Yes, the site could be frustrating and there were tech problems, but there was also great loyalty – all the while enthusiastic, unpaid people were valorized (thanks to Brad Fidler for that accurate description) by being responded to and given recognition by the Seesmix videos.

Many people were inspired by Loic’s drive, enthusiasm and directness. How few CEOs would even attempt to reply to everyone? Crazy French man, he did attempt precisely that. Still, I sincerely believe Loic did not understand what he had. He was a dynamic proprietor and his availability was a big part of the place, but he didn’t get what was really happening while it was happening – his focus was on business and revenue, and what was happening instead was a spontaneous flowering of culture.

As Patty Hartwell said,

Early Seesmic was a glorious accident of timing and circumstance.

What of the problems? Aside from the legendary tech difficulties, other issues raised last night were trolls needing moderation, restless intelligences being bored hearing the same old conversations, conscientious people being frustrated trying to catch up with every thread. Wise words were spoken about communities stagnating, and there was also a wide recognition that we couldn’t go back. Those days are gone.

I don’t accept that it must simply die, just because we aren’t there. Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale? We might have grown beyond weekly clubbing, but that doesn’t mean the club should be allowed to rot.

Since it worked once, it should work again. The same people would not return in the same way, but, new people could come if the conditions were right. Seesmic Alpha was a viable, valuable ecosystem and I think it could and should be revived.

Here is my (highly valuable) two cents on how to re-create the space, re-launch it, and make it succeed, raccoon and all.

Return to phase one and begin by repeating the things that made it work.

Seesmic Alpha was closed, invite only, like the best clubs, and so I would begin by closing it once more – for refurbishment – while the last few annoying technological glitches are finally ironed out. It should be inexpensive to fix the few remaining tech problems and make basic improvements, really.

I would thoroughly integrate the site with all the major social networks = cross-posting.

I would allow users to create and moderate their own public, private or semi-private channels, like YouTube, DailyMotion et al.

I would produce a version of Seesmic desktop which could manage this seamlessly (of course!) pushing content into Facebook, etc.

Content is easy, when you know how:

encourage organic contributions and showcase and reward them without being patronising

employ hosts like the gently genial and intelligent characters of Whit and Giselle (they really were perfect for their roles)

ensure different languages and cultures are represented in the mix, in different time zones, so it is never silent<

allow commercial, potential revenue-generating ideas to emerge from the mess, rather than imposing them from outside – which will inevitably happen, if you achieve the right mix of types.

Loic spent a lot of money developing Seesmic, and invested a huge amount of personal energy without which we would have not now have our still treasured experiences and many of our ongoing friendships. I want to give him credit for that, but I wouldn’t blame him if he did write it off, having survived the last couple of years while many San Francisco early stage businesses vanished into thin air.

Much work was done and money spent to improve the infrastructure, but so late that by the time it was complete, the people had moved away onto other networks (which all had their own problems). Is that investment all written off? Surely not. Every ecological bone in my body rejects that outcome.

I genuinely believe that is within easy reach to restore and renovate Seesmic Alpha, and return value to the original concept, and that it would be a good idea. I would even call it Seesmic Alpha once again, which would amuse many and make a point. Beta? Who needs that? We have Alpha, and are thus far closer to the source…

I could give you more ideas and analysis for free, but if I did, I’d have to kill you.

Why Seesmic Alpha Rocked

Saints are sinners who kept going.
– ┬áRobert Louis Stevenson

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