Livefyre Works to Bring Web Comment Sections Back to Life

[Corrected, see page 2] Publishing on the Web was always supposed to be a many-to-many affair, not a one-to-many lecture like so much of radio, TV, and newspaper content. But much of the burden of keeping the Web bidirectional falls on the familiar comment sections below most news articles and blog posts. And comments, in case you haven’t been following the blogosphere lately, are in poor health.

Too often, comment sections fill up with spam and anonymous backstabbing—to the point that some online publishers have given up on them, disabling comments entirely. Of course, many valuable comment threads are still generated around the Web every day, but they’re often frustratingly siloed and fragmented: a raging debate about an Xconomy article might be taking place on Slashdot or Y Combinator Hacker News, for example, and visitors to Xconomy itself would never know it.

Holding commenters more accountable for what they write, and connecting them into unified conversations, are two of the goals at Livefyre, a San Francisco startup that’s launching a private beta test of its real-time commenting platform today. On blogs that have turned on Livefyre, comments pop up on the page as soon as they’re submitted, without forcing users to reload an article page. That makes the comment areas of these blogs resemble instant-message logs or Twitter feeds—which isn’t an accident, as Livefyre’s system is built on XMPP, the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol, an open protocol originally designed for the IM world.

But in addition to being the only comment system built around instant messaging, Livefyre is also implementing a reputation and rating system designed to reward people who post high-quality comments and push trolls out of view. And on top of all that, Livefyre will optionally notify commenters who have signed up to use Livefyre-powered comment sections (which they can do using their Twitter or Facebook credentials) about conversations that might interest them elsewhere on the Web.

Jordan Kretchmer, founder and CEO of LivefyreLivefyre, which will be free to individual bloggers and available for a fee to larger publishers, is introducing its service with support for blogs based on WordPress, Tumblr, or any other content management system that allows publishers to customize their templates by dropping in the snippet of JavaScript code needed to call the Livefyre service. The startup’s beta testing program is starting out small, with just five or so publishers using the system on the first day, but the technology will be rolled out to the several hundred publications on the company’s waiting list over the next two months, according to Jordan Kretchmer, Livefyre’s founder and CEO.

Livefyre didn’t actually start out as a commenting tool. Kretchmer—an ad-industry veteran who worked for Mullen Advertising in Boston and Butler Shine Stern in San Francisco—says he first started thinking about online conversations while doing a short stint as vice president of brand at the multiplatform news producer CurrentTV, in San Francisco.

“When I was at CurrentTV, I joined Twitter and started being more active in forums, and what jumped out at me was … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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11 responses to “Livefyre Works to Bring Web Comment Sections Back to Life”

  1. Daniel Ha says:

    Daniel from Disqus here. I’m pretty excited to see Livefyre’s approach to this. After over 3 years of Disqus, we’ve learned a lot of lessons and noticed what is important to publishers.

    One error in this article is that Disqus doesn’t do realtime. Disqus does do realtime (though the implementation details are different). A bigger point, though, is that realtime comments isn’t relevant for much of the publishers that we work with. Comments, or forums in general, are meant to be asynchronous. You just don’t have dozens of people commenting at the same time unless it’s a live event like the WWDC. In those cases, Disqus’ realtime feature works extremely well. Otherwise, I haven’t seen it used very well (to the concept’s potential) in other scenarios.

    To us, comments and forum communities behave differently than chat, or even Twitter as this article mentions. That distinction is pretty important. I believe that comments haven’t been historically “broken” on most sites because of a lack of realtime, but rather it’s lacking because the community dynamic isn’t strong or even present. That’s the philosophy Disqus works under. That difference in philosophy may equate to diverging product goals with our competitors (and potentially Livefyre) so I’m interested to see how it resonates in the wild.


  2. Wade RoushWade Roush says:

    @Daniel — Thanks for your comment, which is very interesting. Sorry about the error, which I’ve now corrected.

  3. Jordan from Livefyre here. @Daniel: Conversation is broken, but real-time is just one part of the solution. The most important thing we can do is help content producers create environments where people are compelled to feel and to act more human. Livefyre’s goal is to help sites achieve an increase in both the quality and quantity of interaction with their content, especially the ones who are struggling to create a good community dynamic.

    Twitter, forums, chat, comments… They’re coming together quickly, and we believe that expectations are changing around the experience of interacting with any or all of them.

  4. Richard says:

    I do like the way livefyre is implementing social commenting. I’d love to see an option for people to leave comments without having to log in, but I can understand the dynamics to their system.

  5. Luke says:

    I just finished a comparison of Disqus, IntenseDebate, and Livefyre: . Interested to hear people’s input.

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