Tout’s Plans For Turning Video Status Updates Into A Business

Since launching about a year ago, Tout has been used by celebrities like Shaquille O’Neal and Survivor host Jeff Probst to post short video status updates. Now co-founder and CEO Michael Downing is sharing some details about how the company has grown and where it goes from here.

The Tout concept is pretty straightforward — users post video messages of up to 15 seconds. People who follow you and see the message can then reply with their own 15-second videos. Past attempts at video social networking have failed, but celebrities and brands are embracing Tout as a way to engage more meaningfully with their fans. After all, reading 140-character text updates from Shaq (who announced his retirement on Tout) is nice, but it’s not the same as actually seeing and hearing him.

Downing says 12 million people have visited Tout since it launched, including 3.7 million in the last 30 days. Seventy-five million Touts have been shared overall. Tout’s celebrity-driven nature means that traffic can spike unpredictably, but Downing says that for the most part, the site’s popularity has been on “steady growth curve,” with traffic increasing between 20 and 35 percent each month. And he predicts that 2012 will be the year “this thing explodes.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean a flood of traffic to the Tout website, by the way. Downing says his goal isn’t to make Tout a destination social network. Instead, he wants to become “the de facto video messaging application” for everyone else. To enable this, Tout is testing a public API, and Downing is dropping hints about some major partners. If he has his way, we’ll soon see Tout buttons and widgets across the Web. You’ll be able to leave a short video whenever you want to post a review on Yelp or, hey, even a comment on TechCrunch.

As for making money, Downing says that he wants to establish a video at network, of sorts, across Tout properties. He notes that Tout spun out of SRI, the research institute that also launched Siri. And like Siri, Downing says Tout has access to speech-to-text and natural language technology that will help it understand what the video conversations are really about — which, in turn, will allow brands to reach relevant audiences and conversations.

Downing says this should open up a new opportunity for advertisers. In comparison, he says Google is “tone-deaf to the conversation” if there’s not “text on the page.”