Back in the distant summer of 2003, I got sold the dream of real-time online video by Keith Teare, the co-founder of EasyNet and one of Britain's most swashbuckling entrepreneurial exports to Silicon Valley. Teare had just taken over as CEO of VidiTel, a start-up company funded by the venture capitalists Draper-Fisher. VidiTel had developed a technology platform that enabled anyone with a webcam to have online video conversations. He wanted me to become the general manager of the service. Real-time video is the future, he promised me – it's going to change everything.
Teare was right. Real-time video was the future in 2003. The big question is whether it still remains in the future in 2009.
In new media, of course, timing is everything. Draper-Fisher invested in VidiTel at about the same time that it invested in another real-time communications platform, the internet telephony company Skype, which was later sold to eBay in October 2005 for $2.6bn. VidiTel, in contrast, never caught on, and Teare is now president of the photography start-up Fotonauts.com, while I've degenerated into an impecunious snark.
I have to admit that VidiTel crossed my mind more than once while talking last week to Loïc Le Meur, the swashbuckling Gallic founder and CEO of Seesmic, a Silicon Valley start-up he described as a "real-time video platform". To be fair to Le Meur, however, real-time video has come a long way since 2003, his start-up having pioneered technology that makes it incredibly easy to record and distribute personal videos over the internet. Seesmic could indeed change everything on the internet: Le Meur's tiny company of 11 engineers has the potential to transform Twitter from a textual social application to a video one.
Financed by $12m from blue-chip angels such as the eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and the TechCrunch heavyweight Michael Arrington, Seesmic has already built up an impressive list of media partners, including the BBC, the Washington Post company, 20th Century Fox and LinkTV. Most intriguingly, Le Meur, who moved to Silicon Valley from Paris 18 months ago to build Seesmic, acquired a desktop client software product called Twhirl in April of last year. Twhirl plus Seesmic might equal fame and fortune for Le Meur. What Twhirl does is enable the Seesmic software to work on Twitter, thus enabling video on the micro-blogging platform. "It's YouTube meets Twitter," as one Twhirl enthusiast "tweeted" me.
Twhirl isn't the only desktop client for Twitter – there are now at least 30 clients and 200 applications – but it is one of the most reliable and easiest to use, both in terms of its general functionality and of its rich media applications. according to Le Meur, 6 per cent of all "tweets" are now sent using Twhirl, with the free client having been downloaded more than a million times. I strongly advise Twitter users to try Twhirl. It really does enrich the Twitter experience.
Le Meur assured me that real-time video is the future of the internet. Timing is indeed everything in the new media business. Almost six years after Keith Teare sold me on the same dream, I suspect that we may have finally caught up with the future.