Seesmic, the Twitter of video, gradually opening for public use — unveils investors

Seesmic, yet another video-sharing site that encourages quick, conversational clips that can be recorded and replied to, is opening up for public use, with the waiting period for membership requests down to less than a day. It has also unveiled the names of some high-profile backers — even as it gets slammed by critics (here and here, for example).

Seesmic has been dubbed the “Twitter of video,” for the short snippets of video people post of themselves talking about whatever is on their mind. Others can just skim the videos, or reply to the messages they see, creating back-and-forth conversations.

The criticism is that video snippets aren’t as effective as text snippets. Unscripted recordings can be quite boring, and while short messages work with text (as Twitter has shown), videos aren’t as easily consumable. Other companies have tried, and failed, to do so-called “video mail” before. It’s a simple idea, and so if it were viable, it may have already existed.

However, there’s one problem with these criticisms: The service seems to be catching on with its initial base of users. Our own test of a short, silly recording elicited a half-dozen replies from around the world within an hour. The 1,500-plus alpha-test users pump out a steady stream of videos, which Seesmic edits to produce a daily show. (Although posting is limited to members, anyone can watch videos, by going here.)

With that in mind, we think it’s worth talking about how Seesmic could develop — and start to make money — when it opens fully.

One reason Seesmic may be successful is because it is offering clear guidance: Make it short and digestible. So people have an idea of what to record before they start. However, as more people pile on, the stream of new “conversations” will become daunting and confusing to newcomers. Seesmic is already addressing this by employing video editors to pick through the day’s videos and splice together the best parts. These “shows” can be catchy, if sometimes also odd and amateurish.

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In the future, founder Loic le Meur told us, there will be tagged “trees” with different conversational branches. Seesmic would shuffle new videos into certain categories so that, for example, if you were into knitting, you could quickly find your way to videos of people talking about knitting, or actually knitting on camera.

Because users quickly accumulate a group of friends once they’re online, more features will go in to help channel your attention, like a daily, automatic “show” consisting of your closest friends’ video updates for the day. Popular videos by users that you don’t know will come to light separately through the daily Seesmic shows, or in the conversational branches.

New features Seesmic adds come solely from user requests, according to Le Meur.

To monetize, the site has several ideas, including a Flickr-like subscription model with additional features, sponsorships, and charging for mobile versions that send videos to your phone. However, like a number of other services (including Twitter), Seesmic is most interested in building a firm user base first.

The investor list is mostly comprised of high-profile angel investors. Among them are Ron Conway, VC Jeff Clavier, former AOL CEO Steve Case, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and TechCrunch maestro Mike Arrington (who has also given it plenty of coverage).

Despite the numerous video companies already launched, some investors continue to pine after video. Ron Conway, for example, has sprayed money at video companies, saying he still believes video represents a strong trend.

The remainder of the investor list: Jeff Pulver of Pulver.com, Martin Varsavsky of FON, Michael Parekh, Ariel Poler, Dan Gillmor, Steve Garfield, and Mark Pincus. The San Francisco company launched about four months ago.