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Spicy Ideas: Why Video Is Changing the World

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This is the first installment of Jose Castillo’s new column, Spicy Ideas, in which Jose will bring his considerable knowledge of Web 2.0 video to bear on the issues and challenges facing new media outlets. If you’ve seen Jose’s insightful, funny presentations at any of the Streaming Media shows, you know that whatever he has to say, it’ll be worth reading.

This was supposed to be a standard review of yet another video service. I would start out with a witty quote or analogy and then go through the features and benefits. The discussion of user interface versus underlying technology would probably be won by the interface design. I would mention a few competitors and give some examples of how individuals and companies were using the service. After no more than 850 words I would email this to my editor and go on to the next flashy new media toy. But something happened in my latest review. I was reminded why video is so important and why it is changing the world … it’s all about people communicating.

I frequently give presentations on the latest trends in online tools and services, and the week before I wrote this I spoke to a graduate class of digital media students at a local university. One of the students, Louis, was deaf, and he had expressed an interest in learning more about one of the video sites I had talked about, Seesmic (www.seesmic.com). He was eager to see if he could use Seesmic as a tool for the deaf to communicate using sign language. I had never thought about using a video tool like this for the deaf, and it was interesting to think about how much we limit our ideas. Louis had started something interesting.

So what is Seesmic? In September 2007, web entrepreneur and blogger Loic Le Meur launched Seesmic.com. Currently still in private beta (sign up on the website and you will usually receive an invitation within 24 hours), Seesmic is an easy, fast video conversation tool. Record or upload a video through your browser and receive instant video responses from other users around the world. It sounds simple, and almost too good to be true, but almost every time I record a post I get video replies right away. This is different from video chat, and it keeps track of conversations and generates RSS feeds. The company is making updates weekly. With investors such as Michael Arrington from TechCrunch and video blogging pioneer Steve Garfield, Seesmic is harnessing video and technology thought leaders along with its very active userbase to change online video conversations.

Louis is a perfect example of how people are helping companies to change quickly. He sent me a message saying that he wanted to try Seesmic but had not received his invitation. I sent a message to Loic, who was very interested in how Seesmic could be used for deaf conversations; he assured me Louis would get his invitation. Just a few hours later Louis logged on to Seesmic and recorded his first post. Using American Sign Language he recorded a brief welcome video, and the responses were instantaneous. A young guy from France figured out how to sign "welcome to Seesmic," a user from London wrote a "hello" in Sharpie marker on packing tape, an older woman from New York talked about her work with special needs communication, and 19 videos later Louis was in the midst of an incredible discussion about how we communicate and how people with disabilities use technology.

Most importantly, Louis had started an idea about how to use video to change peoples’ lives. We all are guilty of focusing too much on the tools we use every day. Blinded by the coolness of our latest application or service, we sometimes forget that connecting human beings is at the core of online media. We are well-versed in what tools to use and how to best deliver content, but we need to remind ourselves why we get out of bed every morning. Thank you, Louis, for reminding me that we have barely scratched the surface of how technology can change the world.

So next time you fire up your camera, sign onto your web app, or open up your laptop, take a moment to think about why you are doing your job. Video is changing the world, and folks like Louis and Loic are providing the conversation and the place. You can sign up at www.seesmic.com and join the conversation. Louis would love to talk with you. His Seesmic homepage is at http://api.seesmic.com/lsrccrd, and mine is http://api.seesmic.com/thinkjose.

Several weeks after I wrote this article, the conversation on deaf communication is still going on strong. Louis and Loic have been spreading the word, and I had my first American Sign Language lesson on Seesmic the other day. Louis is considering applying for an internship with Loic and the company that inspired him.

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