Seesmic: someone has to defend Web 2.0’s most popular whipping boy

As the global economic crisis continues its merry ride of ups, downs, foreclosures and in the case of Iceland, possible starvation, the startup world of dreams and grand ideas has been replaced by one that is quickly turning on itself, with a nasty dose Darwinian capitalism that sees competitors turn on each other in an attempt to gain an advantage.

Long term, negative campaigns don’t work. Just ask John McCain. Negativity is a sure sign of desperation, praying for salvation as Rome burns. It is however representative of human nature, and nothing will change that. But there’s one strange thing that’s come out of these bad times, and that’s the use of Seesmic as a noun to describe a bad startup.

Seesmic bashing is all the rage. I do understand why the company is being targeted: it’s different, it doesn’t have a clear monetization strategy yet, and they’ve already done two rounds of layoffs.

But that doesn’t make the attacks fair.

Is Seesmic really the worst startup out there? What, because they’re already laying off staff, does that mean somehow that they are poorly equipped to handle the downturn, before the worst of it is clear?

Seemsic does have a niche appeal, but there’s a lot to like about the company. They’ve led in the field of video microblogging, person to person discussions that offer a dose of real life beyond the limited text of Twitter. I saw one site this week describe Seesmic as nothing more than a blog video commenting service and totally ignore the strong and interesting community on Seesmic itself.

Seesmic does have an interesting risk profile, but so does Seesmic’s competitors. Any existing video site could easily extend themselves into this space, but although we’ve seen the inclusion of direct video recording on sites such as YouTube, I’ve not seen any of the broader video providers compete head on in threaded discussion.

CEO Loic LeMeur has been willing to make cuts now to slow the money burn for the site so as to decrease their costs coming into the recession, where few Bay Area startups are yet to act; I’m sorry, but planning ahead isn’t a bad thing, that’s sound management, and a positive business step. Seesmic may have been the first, but many others will be forced to follow, presuming that cutting staff will keep many of them afloat at all.

Some like to reminisce about how the last web crash resulted in smarter, more innovative startups, and companies like 37signals, Flickr and Delicious are mentioned. There is a serious problem in the space today, as a direct result of the second web boom, that has seen an army of clones get funding. Here’s the thing: Seesmic is different. They’re not the only player in the space, but they are the biggest, and were one of the first. They’re not just another clone of 20 other sites, they actually went out and tried something new. Sometimes those risks fail, sometimes they work, but at least Seesmic has (aside from a handful of smaller competitors) something strongly unique about it.

Seesmic may end up with an EPIC FAIL stamp in the not to distant future, and I’m not suggesting that they won’t. But I also don’t believe using Seesmic as a noun to describe a bad startup is anywhere close to justified or fair either.

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