Over the last three years, I’ve attended all three TEDx conferences on the idyllic campus of my old alma mater, the University of Southern California. And it’s been my experience that TEDxUSC is where you go to be inspired, not have your dreams relegated to the heap bin of “what if…”

But for a brief, fleeting moment last Tuesday, I was certain that all the hard work done by myself and fellow Stroome co-founder, Nonny de la Pena, was about to go the way of…well, the Flip.

i-d24febeeb331a881b175c03a61469a76-ripflip.jpgThere I was sitting in the audience along with my fellow 1,200 TEDxers patiently waiting for Krisztina Holly (affectionately known around the USC campus as ‘Z’) to announce the rules for a TEDxUSC-themed video scavenger hunt that would re-launch our newly designed site when all of a sudden a hundred cell phones (all muted of course — TEDxers are “disruptors,” but they’re not disrespectful) suddenly came to life. The news was spreading like wildfire across the web: Cisco had discontinued the Flip!!!

Now, the fact that the popular, pocket-size camera had been shuttered probably wouldn’t have prompted such a profound sense of panic except for the fact that I knew precisely what ‘Z’ was going to say next: “And now it’s time to make something together. So pull out your smartphones, your digital cameras, your Flips…”

And there it was. I’m told ‘Z’ kept talking. I didn’t hear another word she said.

Should Stroome ‘Flip Out’?

As the co-founder of Stroome, an online video editing platform built on collaborative content creation, creativity may be the fuel that fires the engine; but without a device that can get that content into a centralized place where people actually can do something with it, you’re in trouble. For the last few years, the Flip had been that device. We were in trouble.

When the Flip was introduced in 2007, it had been hailed as “the easiest way to make and share videos.” What once had required thousands of dollars to procure, and an instruction manual the size of a phone book to operate, had been reduced to a single, red “record” button on a small black box the size of a pack of cigarettes that fit perfectly in your front pocket.

i-53de7b93bbc9ff879e9a89055c992c56-Flips.jpg

And while the Flip wasn’t the only game in town when Cisco acquired it in 2009, by all accounts it was a game changer. Overnight, it seemed the way we documented our lives changed forever. Birthday parties, dance recitals, high school graduations — all could be captured on a moment’s notice.

But the Flip didn’t just give us an easy and accessible way to preserve the defining moments in our lives; it let us do it in dazzling HD! And the best part? All this could be ours for the low, low price of $129!

And now it was over. Like some didactic Middle Eastern dictator able to cut the people off at the knees at his capricious whim, Cisco had pulled the plug on the whole damn thing.

But as I sat there in the darkness, the last 18 months of my life playing themselves out in front of me, an incredible thing happened — a hundred incredible things, actually.

Killed by the Smartphone

As I looked around Bovard Hall — a hundred iPhones, Androids and Evos twinkling on and off like stars against a dark night — I suddenly realized it wasn’t Cisco that had killed the Flip. The smartphone had.

i-3209447db004c2510cc27ed7ec58a140-iPhone4.jpgNot 15 minutes earlier I, along with my fellow TEDxers, had watched slack-jawed as former USC film grad student, Michael Koerbel, showed us a film he had shot, edited and distributed entirely on the iPhone 4. And it was in that instant that I again began to feel inspired.

But my inspiration didn’t come from the fact that a 4.5” × 2.31” piece of perfectly buffed black chrome and circuitry had effectively replaced an entire film crew. My inspiration came from the fact that in the end, shooting, editing and uploading a film on a phone — as incredible a feat as it is — isn’t enough. You still need a place to watch your 4-minute masterpiece. And if you want to watch it with others, then work together to collaboratively create the next iteration of your idea, you need a place to do that. Right now, the only place on the web you can do that is Stroome.

An opposing view: Smartphones Didn’t Kill Flip, Cisco Did at GigaOm Pro