The Telephone = Better Than Seesmic, and other Social Media Musings

February 18, 2008

in #Tech,Social Media,Social Networking,Startups

For the past six months, I’ve been experimenting with different internet video broadcasting formats. I’m not sure why, as I don’t have any personal interest to be in front of the camera, regularly. I’m quite shy when it comes to strangers, so naturally, broadcasting myself via video (live, or taped) would practically be a nightmare for me. Still, I persist in my experiments because I am fascinated with those who are brave enough to give the internet increased access to who they are as individuals. Even more fascinating are the communities that form, or don’t form, around these internet personalities.

In The Beginning
Back in August, it all started with Ronald Lewis. I stumbled upon him via Twitter, which lead me to his 24/7 lifecasting channel on Justin.TV. It seemed like every night I would log on his channel and chop it up with the other regulars. We’d talk about Ron, Ron’s topics/issues regarding life, etc. We’d catch up on each other’s lives, too. It was fun. At the time, broadcast channels were invite only, and when JTV opened its doors to the public, the site went a little crazy. Girls were flashing the camera, some broadcasters were having sex on camera (subsequently getting banned from the site), and the community began to annoy me as it turned into this mob of users looking for the next controversy.

I won’t go into all of the other video broadcasting formats and shows I have tried, but today it seems as though the most intriguing to me are Seesmic and Yahoo! Live. I’ve been on Seesmic for a few weeks now, and I will say I am about fed up with the community there, and I barely post anything myself. The site lets you record a video and post it to a public timeline for everyone to see, and reply to. Threads and conversations spring out. Think of it as video e-mail on a discussion group, but viewed solely from your inbox and not a more sensible forum or message board format. Picture that full of people you probably don’t have any common interests with. To me, that’s Seesmic. On Fast Company, Bill Cammack effectively summarizes how the setup of the site assists in creating confusion  (and subsequent civil unrest) on Seesmic.

I don’t interact much on Seesmic, mostly because the site was really broken when I first received my invite. It was in a pre-alpha release, so this was understandable. After features started working, and more features were being added, I started to post a few videos, mostly to people I already knew in some capacity on the internet. That was great…..until I ran out of people I knew on the site.

Currently, my problems with Seesmic are the drama festering among users and the lack of new users. It seems as though everyone is bickering about something or other (mostly bickering about bickering), and when they are not bickering, they’re having silly 6th grade conversations about boobs. No, really. On top of that, I see the same ten people posting videos, the same ten people I’ve grown bored with watching. No fun at all. Everybody isn’t going to like everybody, even if they are confined to a new medium. Not every early adapter is going to like every other early adapter. To make matters worse, the oldheads are now sitting on the site complaining about new people joining the site and effectively becoming “noise” to them. The irony and assumptions are thick on Seesmic.  Tyme White weighs in on how the Seesmic new user experience is losing stock by the minute.

Yahoo! Liveness
Switching gears to Yahoo! Live, which launched  less than two weeks ago, I have to say I am  in love with the site. I do have a few concerns with it, my biggest being that when watching someone else’s channel, and broadcasting myself, I can be seen in both my channel and the channel of the person I am watching. Unfortunately I don’t have a clone to manage myself in both places, so the people who show up in my channel end up losing out, not knowing why I am staring at my computer, but not interacting with them. Yahoo! should let me turn my channel off in my own room if I want to. I also don’t like that I am limited to watching five people at any given time in a room. When rooms get bigger, with more users on camera, I’d like to be able to see more people on camera instead of having to pick only four users to see. Because there is audio attached to every feed, this implies that you may want to listen to everyone. Since every user gets to choose the four people they want to listen to, who’s to say any given user chooses the same four users to watch and listen to? This can create disjointed conversations at times. I like Yahoo! Live because I can see other audience members and their reactions while we engage in a shared experience. It’s better than JTV because, not only am I engaged with the host, I am now engaged with the community surrounding the host.

It Goes Down
Last night George Kelly did a reprise performance of serenading the internet with his acoustic guitar. It was simple: he sat in front of the camera with his guitar and took song requests from those in his Yahoo! Live room. George is the man, and did just about any song we threw at him. I heard about his streaming via my twittering friend Cecily. I twittered about the session myself, so I could encourage people to come to the room to share the experience with me. Those friends ended up twittering about it too, and it was on and poppin’ from there. I don’t know how long we were in the room, but it had to have been a few hours. It was fun the entire time. There was no bickering (besides playful digging, of course). We welcomed all new people we didn’t know. We had jokes the whole time. The music was great. Sometimes we focused on George and his music. Other times we tuned George out and had our own lively conversations and jokes. Many of us have never met in real life, but know each other on twitter, or know of the same people on twitter. When I left that experience, I felt like I had felt what social media is all about. People walked away with new twitter friends to follow, new names to check for. It was awesome, yet so simple.

The Media Richness Of It All
And so here is where my scholarly world and social media/fun world collide. Pardon me while I put my education to use.  Media Richness Theory stipulates, “richer, more personal means of
communication are generally more effective at communication than
leaner, less rich mediums.”
  Media richness is a function of:

  • the medium’s capacity for immediate feedback, i.e. synchronous vs. asynchronous
  • the number of
    cues and channels available, i.e. visual, audio, emotion cues, etc.
  • language variety
  • the degree
    to which intent is focused on the recipient (think TV commercials vs. Google AdSense ads)

Media_Richness_Theory_Diagram_PNG.pngLooking at the chart on the left, you can see that snail mail (junk mail) is the least effective mode for communication and less rich, while face to face communication is the most effective and most rich medium. Some attribute Seesmic as being the next big thing in communication/social media technology, but I have to disagree.  Seesmic presents the illusion that it’s face to face communication, but in fact, if I had to plot Seesmic somewhere on the chart, it would be neck and neck with two-way radio, perhaps marginally above two-way radio, but definitely below the telephone. It may have increased  social cues than the telephone, but it loses in sense of time and sender-recipient communication.  That’s right–Seesmic is no better than the telephone.  Taking a look at where Yahoo! Live places on the chart, it would have to be up there with video conferencing. Whether or not, it is slightly above or below, I am not sure. After all, Y! Live has only been out for less than two weeks.

Not About The Tools
After thinking about all the tools out there with video and social media, in the end, I realized it is the people that make the experience for me and not necessarily the medium modes or tools I use to communicate with them.  (Duh). Honestly, Seesmic would be better if my friends and their friends bumrushed the site and highjacked the public timeline. Unfortunately for me, Seesmic isn’t operating in my favor. If a tool came along and absolutely blew my mind, then perhaps this would encourage some sort of social media revolution. Seesmic isn’t there at all. Yahoo! Live is…closer to a revolution. Yahoo! Live was awesome when George was on there, but when I came to the site a few hours before George was playing,  I was at a  loss for something to do on the site. Perhaps this is the struggle of the early adapter. I wonder what will happen when the MySpace or YouTube crowd gets a hold of Seesmic or Yahoo! Live. Cherish the thought.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Bill Cammack February 21, 2008 at 1:09 PM

You summed it up perfectly, so I’ll give my own personal observations re: live video vs video-message-board. Props to AllAboutGeorge for his room-hosting skills and talented playing. 🙂
First of all, that Yahoo! Live session was really cool. They *NEED* to remove the part where you’re automatically broadcasting on your channel just because you enabled your camera and entered someone else’s room. In its current configuration, there’s no value to being able to exist in more than one room at the same time. Hopefully, they’re planning to move towards having more cameras live at the same time, so it becomes more a bunch of single webcams instead of a host and four co-hosts.
It’s also retarded that you can’t set up your own configuration for your own room. As he host, you should be able to choose the four co-hosts and have those be automatically selected for whomever joins the room. That way, you could set up a talk show panel format and be sure that everyone’s receiving the same information.
Having said that, it’s a lot better, for my purposes, to have a live camera/chat setup than it is to have a bunch of video-stickies that you post to a message board. When you’re live, everyone gets the same information at the same time. If someone is clueless about what’s going on, when they mention their point, they will be brought up to speed, immediately. There’s no chance that this person is going to show up to an asynchronous conversation, hear something in a video that’s already been resolved, then post a reply to that video AS IF IT HASN’T BEEN RESOLVED. This way, you avoid the cycle of misunderstandings and redundant explanations.
Also, “live” is the realm of kings. Come to the table with your “A” game and having done your research, and you can either win the argument or graciously admit that your adversary’s logic currently outshines your own. You have to think on your feet “live”, and be able to express yourself quickly and articulately when the conversation veers off on an unexpected tangent. On a video message-board, you’re talking to no one. You’re talking to a camera. You don’t get immediate acknowledgement that you were a) heard, b) understood or c) agreed or disagreed with.
Another problem with asynchronous discussions is that people get to pick and choose what they respond to and then take all day leaving their video message. In a live conversation, that person would not be allowed to ramble on about something that had nothing to do with the conversation. The upside of that, which is really only an upside for the viewer, and *NOT* for the conversation as a whole, is that as soon as you have determined that someone is an idiot, as soon as you see their picture in their icon, you simply skip their video entirely as if they never posted it in the first place.


Brittany February 21, 2008 at 1:18 PM

Wow, very interesting blog. I would never even consider doing any video blogging or lifecasting. I guess I have never been that brave. I join tons of social networking sites, but would never join something like vimeo or jtv.


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