Seesmic CEO on the business of Twitter

Loic Le Meur reveals his plans to make money from the service that's making none.

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
4 min read

Loic Le Meur, the CEO of Seesmic, was beginning to get on my case whenever I posted a Twitter update from my default Twitter desktop app, TweetDeck, instead of from his new app, Seesmic Desktop. So I headed over to his office to see why this mattered so much to him.

Seesmic Desktop, as we've written previously, is the successor to the popular Twitter/Friendfeed client Twhirl. It looks like it will be very competitive to TweetDeck soon, although it has a few UI glitches at the moment.

Loic Le Meur launches Seesmic Desktop, April 7, 2009. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

This app is a critical but early piece of Seesmic's new strategy. While initially Seesmic was built around its short social video sharing service of the same name, after Le Meur bought Twhirl and saw that app get more traction than Seesmic itself, he realized, he told me, that his business lay not in building a new community of people sharing videos, but rather in enabling users to participate in any community they want to.

That's why Seesmic Desktop enables users to communicate with their Twitter and Facebook friends (with more services to come), why it integrates the incoming streams from services together, and why it will eventually integrate a number of different ancillary services, like URL shorteners, picture-sharing services, and, of course, the Seesmic video-sharing service.

Le Meur believes that stream-based social networking in general--and Twitter in particular, of course--is changing the way not only that people connect to each other, but the way businesses and consumers connect. And that's critical, because when you help out business, you can make money.

Customer service via Twitter

There's a paid version of Seesmic Desktop coming, Le Meur told me. Like CoTweet and HootSuite, it will make it easier for teams of people to manage a Twitter account and communicate with people who are either discussing the company they work for or who are contacting the company to complain or get help. There will probably be "pro" and "enterprise" versions of the app, in addition to the free version, Le Meur said, although we did not discuss the differences between the two paid products.

Another way Seesmic will make money: By selling prominent placement for tools like URL shorteners. Right now, for example, the popular Bit.ly URL shortener is at the top of the list of options when you want to create short URL in Seesmic. That's a premier position. Once (and if) Seesmic gets enough users, that position will be worth something, Le Meur says. Likewise shortcuts to picture positing service and possibly even additions to the Seesmic search box.

As the social services continue to converge on the stream-of-updates model, and as they interconnect, services that tie them all together become more valuable. Le Meur gets that the app that the people use to work with their social networks is the clearing station for a lot of value.

LeMeur is also working on an antispam service for Twitter (and not a moment too soon, if you ask me), as he discussed in his blog.

More new Seesmics

Other changes coming to the Seesmic product line include a Web-based version, called Seesmic Web, which should be released in about a month. I got a brief glimpse of this app on a developer's workstation. Its real advantage is that by being a Web-based app, it can do things that the desktop version cannot. Primarily, it acts as a persistent social hub for users, and can do things like continuously track searches for you (to send you alerts when you're not using the app). It will also be able synchronize all your settings, like your "userlists" (groups of users) to your other Seesmic software apps, including an upcoming revised version of Seesmic Desktop and the company's first iPhone app, which is in development.

The goal is to make Seesmic the gateway to all your social services, no matter what platform you're on at any moment. If you want to work solely from the Web, if you prefer local apps, or if you're mobile, Le Meur wants to make sure that your community, however or wherever you've set it up, is there for you. (It's a similar model to Evernote, a note-taking app and service that synchronizes your data between its software versions, Web site, and mobile version.)

Le Meur has a way to go before his vision begins to work as a business, but the direction is sound. He's going for the gate position in social networks, and he's not planning on relying on any one given network (like Twitter) to be his lifeline. Of course there will be competitors, and and it's too early to say if the execution will live up to the vision. But his is a mature view of how to make money as all the social platforms converge on the Twitter model.