The Naked IT interview series talks with innovators about the evolving relationship between IT and business. In this segment, French serial entrepreneur, Loic Le Meur, discusses Seesmic, his fifth startup, which is building a community of personal videographers.
Many Seesmic users embrace a casual, "come as you are" style, with videos recorded in kitchens, bedrooms, pubs, and any other place you might imagine. Seesmic users capture their lives and thoughts without makeup, special lighting, or editing. While this edginess might put off some viewers, the popularity of reality television suggests the desire to peek inside the window of others' lives is almost insatiable.
Seesmic provides a fascinating view into the minds of its members. By turns interesting, intellectual, self-absorbed, crude, vulgar and thoughtful, Seesmic videos cover the range of human emotions. Is this good or bad? Depends on your particular taste, I suppose, but it's not exactly the dream tool for enterprises.
Loic and I met on Twitter, a large micro-blog community with few rules, over 700,000 users, and the feel of Wild West meets Godzilla. Take the most interesting cocktail party you might imagine and put it online -- that's Twitter. I suspect this is something along the lines of what Loic wants to create with Seesmic.
The discussion with Loic focused on several themes: connectedness among people online, implications for the enterprise, issues related to IT and business, and key points about using Web 2.0 technologies to reduce risk and the incidence of failure in IT projects.
To hear this entire podcast interview, click play at the top of this post.
Our conversation kept coming back to ways social media can mimic, and even support, relationships in the real world. I asked Loic to explain:
You get a sense of the person you are talking to, you can get feelings, and so on. I really feel like I know people in Seesmic already, like I've spent much time with them. You can feel someone faking or not, feel someone being sincere or not.
On Seesmic people are exactly as they are really, and not like they wish they would be. Exactly like you were having coffee and spending time with them. That's what I expect from my friends. That's new, I think, and that's what people like.
Twitter and Seesmic are building a new way of sharing which is straight from your brain. There's no filter, it goes directly online, and in that way it's very authentic.
This style of interaction precisely describes our initial chat on Twitter, one night a few weeks ago. Common ground quickly emerged, the idea for this interview arose, and within ten days, it was complete. Our online encounter made this process simple and easy.
Of course, I had to try Seesmic myself. You know, it was kind of weird, but also lots of fun. I was pretty astonished when two other users (I call them Seesmics) posted reply videos within a few minutes of mine. In the end, I deleted my little videos, because I just wasn't happy with them. I'm definitely going to try again, however.
Implications for the enterprise
Most large enterprises are built around a hierarchical, command and control structure, where top-down decision-making is the norm. The corporate desire for planning and predictability has traditionally guided product development, marketing, research, and other core functions. In this context, corporate spontaneity -- straight from the brain -- is an oxymoron.
On the other hand, enterprise 2.0 technologies are making rapid inroads into the corporate landscape. Blogs, wikis, and instant messaging, for example, are becoming accepted parts of corporate life.
Does adoption of such tools suggest the enterprise is ready for wholesale change? Loic thinks not. When I asked whether the intimacy created by personal media has practical import for the enterprise, he said:
[Consumers] want the enterprise, and their brands, to be like they really are, and not like they pretend to be in advertising.
Ouch - sometimes the truth hurts.
He went on to describe how direct interactions with customers and users are challenging traditional approaches to product development:
The new way is to build the product with the community, being as transparent as possible, including the drawbacks, things to improve, bugs, and so on. You can't hide anything under the carpet anymore. The old marketing push advertising model is just gone.
In contrast to the entrenched methods of large organizations, Loic is building his company on the principles of transparency. He commented, "video allows a company to show itself as it really is."
With Twitter already claiming almost a million users, it's clear consumers want more direct online relationships with friends, colleagues, and peers. As the enterprise 2.0, social media user population grows, consumer's expectations of transparency and connectedness will increasingly extend to vendors and their relationships with corporations.
It's time for the enterprise to look closely at these Web 2.0 tools. Likewise, tool vendors must improve security, scalability, and reliability, to succeed in corporations and the government. Although some might argue the point, the enterprise will consider such tools to be dangerous until those attributes are substantially improved.
Openness and the enterprise
Loic recognizes that corporate cultures don't change overnight, and that increased transparency is not inevitable:
[This won't] happen that soon in the enterprise, because there is a cultural shock.
I think it is going to happen more with individuals, small businesses, with people in the web industry obviously, but [more openness will be] very difficult [to achieve] in the enterprise. I'd love to see it happen, but I'm not very positive about this.
Given this sobering view, do services such as Seesmic have utility in the enterprise? There is a role for community building, particularly as large enterprises realize the power of personal media to connect with the many individuals comprising the so-called mass market. We all know the advertising slogan "reach out and touch someone"; eventually, corporations will use enterprise 2.0 tools to do just that.
Of course, no conversation on this blog would be complete without a discussion of IT failures. Loic points to "disconnects" between large IT projects and end-users:
[IT departments] want so much perfection they are completely disconnected from what the users want. [T]hey forget to test if real people would use it or not.
In contrast, he describes the approach Seesmic has taken to product development:
What I'm trying to do every day is exactly the opposite. First, who is going to use it, and start from there. [This transparency comes] at the price of recognizing mistakes, failures, bugs, and so on.
Engaging stakeholders, and including users early and often, is a primary success factor for any IT project. While these comments are correct and insightful, they don't point to any specific use for Seesmic-like tools in the fight against IT failure.