The Seesmic Squeeze: how a company responds to market changes in Twitter’s ecosystem

Take a pile of carbon and apply enough heat and pressure and you’ll get diamonds. Of course you might just not get it right and will end up with a pile of ash.

If you talk with Loic Le Meur, CEO of Seesmic, he tells a story of feeling squeezed, just like a batch of carbon. Squeezed by the press, like Techcrunch, who said that Le Meur is in denial of the storm brewing over the Twitter ecosystem after Twitter announced it will compete with the client partners it so famously enabled.

Squeezed by Twitter who didn’t give him warning that it would soon compete with him and the other client developers. I’ve heard more than one story lately of meetings with Ev Williams and the Twitter team to show them Twitter clients and gotten nothing but praise in return. A little “hey, you might think about taking your company in another direction” would have been nice.

Even today, one of Twitter’s investors, Chris Sacca, is saying to “stay the course” to developers like Loic Le Meur, even though when I talk with developers they say the whole ecosystem has changed overnight.

Squeezed by even Apple who has famously put new rules in place for app developers and has shipped the iPad, which needs new development, and a new OS SDK, which will need new development. Seesmic is very late in getting its iPhone client done (he showed me how work is progressing on that front and I get now why Seesmic is taking its time there, Loic might really come out brilliantly because his client didn’t ship before Twitter changed directions so now Loic can steer Seesmic into a new, calmer, part of the sea while other client developers like Twitterriffic, Echofon, and TweetDeck will find it more difficult to change directions to avoid the head-on competition with Twitter.

He told me he’s getting notes from friends, investors, competitors, family, and others asking how things are going. Heck, even I am showing up with my camera trying to find out if there’s a deadpool victim here.

One interesting thing I’ve learned about great entrepreneurs: they get up from a sucker punch and jump right back into the fight. Loic didn’t disappoint here, watch the video and you’ll see he has a new version of Seesmic Desktop shipping this week that takes Seesmic in an entirely new direction: a multi-service platform of his own. At minute 25 in the video Loic takes on the concerns laid out in the industry by Techcrunch.

What did Seesmic do with its desktop client platform?

1. Dumped Adobe technology and went with Microsoft Silverlight. Why? “We needed plugins,” Le Meur says, which are needed to build a platform that would enable a new microblogging client platform to be built.

2. Dumped Twitter. If you look at Seesmic Desktop now you can run that without even having Twitter as part of it. So, a developer could use the new client to interact only with Facebook (which is also a plugin). Add the Twitter plugin and you have a Twitter client, but it’s not required.

3. Opened up search to non-Twitter search engines. Now you can do searches on a variety of search partners, including the newly announced TweetUp, which has an interesting way to sell ads and is sharing revenues with partners like Seesmic.

4. Built a skinning platform. Does CocaCola need its own client? Well, now Seesmic can offer that. So far Twitter hasn’t been able to ship a totally skinnable Twitter and Twitter sure won’t be very likely to build a client that serves Facebook, Linked In, and tons of others the way Seesmic’s new desktop is.

5. Built in Ping.fm, which lets users wean themselves off of Twitter. Write one microblog in Seesmic desktop and you can decide to publish it on a bunch of different services, including Twitter.

There are a few other things too that Seesmic has done with its new platform, but it’s clear that Loic has been thinking about how to diversify off of being only Twitter-centric, and this is how I believe all the Twitter client developers must move, or face dramatically lower valuations than they were expecting.

Anyway, put it all together and Seesmic is responding very well to being squeezed.

How about the other companies in Twitter’s ecosystem? We find out later today as we attend the Twitter Chirp conference. You can watch that on Justin.tv, by the way. See you there!

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

44 thoughts on “The Seesmic Squeeze: how a company responds to market changes in Twitter’s ecosystem

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  3. I read somewhere that Twitter just reached 105 million users. You can only imagine how many people you will be able to reach through that networking site alone. It is no wonder why many companies are opting to market through Twitter.

  4. …yawn.

    adobe air was an absolutely awful platform. terrible user experience. now, let's really start WEB 2.0.

  5. While Apple has banned Flash from its platforms, Adobe Flash enables animations (both old and new) to be saved as HTML5.

    The world keeps turning. If you're going head-to-head against Twitter, you better be prepared to be 10x as good as whatever the default is. We're still early in the game, and in the meantime, there's going to be good news ahead for those companies who continue to innovate.

  6. Thanks for this Robert – hoping that a number of other developers are figuring out their own survival strategies.

    Not so worried about either Seesmic or Loic here though. Having watched him innovate over the last several years, I'd give better odds on his survival than Twitter's.

  7. having seen the video I see Seesmic platform as a “Flock-with-an-appstore-for-plugins-on-silverlight”, which is basically another browser.

    Am I wrong on this assumption ?

    If not, I guess the race is to build a massive user-base. and this can be pretty capital intensive, I'm afraid, unless you've got the “free player advantage” (read: Firefox). But it's based on Silverlight, which might be some kind of barrier to many users.

  8. I liked the articles about the real meaning of ecosystems. What is surprising for me from @loic is that he is not getting where the real battle is : Ad and monetization. As usual, Bill Gross is in the playground (as he did just before Google and sold out quite nicely). Why all these Twitter developers did not yet jump on that.
    anyway, almost all are going back to the search model…while Twitter and likes are not at all about search . It is all about valuing the follower/followed relationship…just like the Nike and so are doing in the real world. Not going further.

  9. Loic exactly my point. There was no way that you were taken by surprise by this announcement in the way that some people are portraying it. You are way to smart for that. Nice job on staying at least two steps ahead as usual :-)

  10. Wow. Seesmic is starting to sounds really powerful and thanks to Loïc on his clear viem on Twitter’s new strategy.

    Btw Could you define Seesmic in 4 words ?

  11. Why they moved to Silverlight? Just Addon I guess is not telling the whole story…I guess it would be great if they shed more light!

  12. There used to be an ecosystem of apps that were developed around Google's AdSense program (bid management, reporting, analytics, etc.). Things didn't turn out so well for those who didn't exit early.

  13. I think that's specious logic to compare Apple to Seesmic. Apple has a much larger percentage of the smartphone market than Seesmic does of its market, has national recognition, and is the platform. Of course devs build for fun and value, but to dismiss the other factors is ludicrous.

  14. just to make it clear, we don't “ditch Twitter” as Robert wrote here, we support twitter and will continue to partner with Twitter very strongly. The reason even Twitter is a plugin is that we want to eat our own food and even let developers change our Twitter integration if they like.

  15. I'd disagree with the comments about the Twitter app for BB. Its actually the best Twitter app to appear on the BB. I was a Twitterberry user, then switched to UberTwitter when that came out. The Twitter app is better than both of those and functionally better than Tweetie on the iPhone. What surprises me in all of this is that Twitter buying Tweetie came as a surprise to people. Honestly? No one thought, “What if Twitter builds/buys a competitive app?” I find it hard to believe that an entrepreneur of Loic's standing would not have thought that through.

  16. The lesson in all of this is NEVER trust the majority player of an “ecosystem” – particularly if they are well funded. They have a near-obligation to presume a Borg-like assimilate-or-destroy strategy (particularly, if they are VC backed).

    “Do No Evil” “Make the World Better” “Kumbayaa” — Don't believe it.

    Seesmic has a little bit of rope, since they have some financial backing and presumably didn't spend all of it. Many smaller bootstrapped Developers had best see the writing on the wall and move away from Twitter. Unless you're playing the lottery-game of being bought out by them, don't bother [I'd say that Seesmic was never a target acquisition for Twitter because they don't want a strong personality like Loic moving under their roof].

    Loic will (eventually) hit his own Home Run (I hope). He may regret being more of the “face of Twitter” for the past-year than almost anyone else – but, it's good to see him now becoming the “face of Seesmic.”

    Twitter's star will fade since it doesn't offer a sustainable unique value, and, because the next Generation of high volume Users (14-21) don't really like Twitter (really, if you have teenagers in the house; get their opinion) and will not become secondary adopters; they'll find their own new platform (maybe Loic will build it).

  17. the BB client is actually really nice. maybe it's because Twitterberry was cumbersome and, hey, we're BB users, so we're pretty easy to please.

    i rarely used Twitterberry; but, find I've used the new BB client a few times this week because it's a good experience. the Seesmic version didn't work on early Curve models, so, I can't compare.

  18. Very cool! Just applied for Seemic Platform SDK! It sounds promising!

    Also I agree that there is a need of Open internet standard for social media status updates like POP3. Social media is revolution.. it can't be controlled by few big companies like Facebook and Twitter. It must be free and open.

  19. Loic's a champ, glad to see him taking Seesmic on it's own course independent of twitter. Hope to see it fully embrace open standards and distributed social networks (with Push, Salmon – like Seesmic for Buzz, or Identi.ca, etc).

  20. It's great to hear how Loic's responding to this. I haven't heard much from the other client developers.

    Twitter better keep the Tweetie team together. They have yet to prove that they can build the best client on any platform. If they can't leverage the great work the Tweetie team did on the iPhone app then TweetDeck, Seesmic, and others may not need to worry as much as we think.

  21. http://www.hashpool.com already does tweet and fb status/linkedin status bundling. The problem, however, is that would the victim (in this case seesmic) not later become the perpetrator?

    Twitter fancied itself a platform and screwed developers, could seesmic not do same? Developers should try not to be as blind as Seesmic were.

    Build your app, put out a api, then work deals with seesmic, tweetie, ubertwitter (heck, even twitter itself and facebook) etc.

    Its all about the api

    Scoble, waiting for your post on better curation and improved search. I believe this is the way forward..

  22. Good call, but from what I've read (haven't used it myself) it's not a very nice product to use from a feature/UX point of view, simply because they've started behind the others. Yes they may catch up, and then the developers can start getting worried, but until then, people like Loic who are already creating amazing products don't have to worry.

    1. The bb client is VERY nice. I’m a little worried too because this is the best twitter experience i’ve had so far and I have a nokia 5800xm and a winmo 6.5 device. Developers are in trouble if Twitter can repeat this great experience across many mobile devices…

  23. i feel sorry for Loic, he got hit when Seesmic was a video play (which I thought had legs, but he was just too early) and now hes getting hit again from twitter.

    The issue will be for him that even if he can navigate twitters own changing internal strategy and end up with a nice niche for his products, he then STILL needs to find a way to monetize.

    We needs to have enough runway to get there..

  24. At the moment, the only client they have is Tweetie. Now, the timing might be because of Chirp and they might be about to announce more, but unless they are going to create more clients for other platforms then it's not going to affect people. And even if they did create an Android app (for example) then I will it really take a toll on developers of things like Seesmic or Twidroid?

    Twitter are already starting on the back foot by not having such feature-rich clients like the two I've mentioned above for other platforms.

  25. Watch out. There's a certain cell phone company that has a minority of the market share too, yet has the hottest app store on the market. Who's that? Apple. Developers build for things where they see both fun and value and I am already hearing about developers who are building for Seesmic.

  26. Piers: this is a change in Twitter strategy, though, and one that has deep implications for companies building in the Twitter ecosystem.

    Twitter is now competing with its own developers, which is a huge shift in strategy for Twitter. To say that they haven't moved into the market is false.

  27. This is not the first time Loic jumped back into the fight (Seesmic 2 years ago vs. Today's Seesmic). I guess this is what makes him a great entrepreneur. Other than this, I think this is a good moment to analyze what the other players are going to do :)

  28. The thing is that twitter hasn't really moved into the market, they've just bought a pre-built solution. In my opinion it's more like them giving Tweetie the thumbs up and a seal of approval. Since I don't have an iPhone, it doesn't bother me. As long as people go down the same route as Seesmic (good call from Loic) and don't just concentrate on Twitter then they'll be fine.

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