August 28, 2008 |
We have already seen enough competition (I think) between services intended to help blog readers easier authenticate themselves to leave a comment on a blog and have all the comments from blogs supporting this or that service aggregated into one account: Disqus, SezWho, JS-Kit, IntenseDebate all work in the same field with slight variations of approaches. But unfortunately as blog owners choose different services to install on their blogs, readers end up creating accounts with each of the services.
Today we have a very different approach to comments aggregation introduced by a new YCombinator startup BackType. Michael Arrington quickly labeled the startup a “Twitter for Comments” and there are some similarities here, like following and tracking people – but here tracking is only for blog comments. Besides, comment authors don’t even have to have accounts with BackType for you to track their comments since the service aggregates all comments from the blogs it crawls. The service operates by identifying blog comments and pulling them into their system, no matter where this or that particular comment is left. The most important thing is that blogs don’t have to install anything to have their comments aggregated by BackType.
Any particular commentator can choose to claim his or her identity so that all the comments left on blogs using this or that URL (and every user can actually have multiple URLs in the system) will be aggregated as belonging to one user. There is also an option to use comments moderation in order to prevent comments left by some strangers using your blog’s or site’s URL appearing as yours (and even without moderation you can always remove comments as not belonging to your stream in one click).
Same as you do on Twitter you can both follow and be followed here – other users will quickly see stats on your individual page while you will be able to track all the comments the people you follow leave around the blogosphere in one place. A good addition is that the service actually shows statistics on the most commented blogs for every user so it will show us what blogs people we are interested in pay the most attention to.
But as for any new application there are some problems here as well. First of all, I don’t really understand why we are talking today about BackType as offering something truly unique and innovative while coComment has been doing a very similar thing for a while now. The only difference between the two is that coComment needs a user to have a browser plug-in installed to be able to identify and track comments while BackType does not rely on any installations at all. But for some reason coComment has been almost forgotten and I have personally encountered multiple glitches with the service (which has been one of my favorites for a long time) and the experience has definitely been spoiled to a certain extent. And the difference in its approach will obviously allow BackType to aggregate much more content compared to coComment. There must be some infrastructural and scalability issues with crawling and handling this immense volume of content generated by blog readers but I hope they will be addressed properly.
Another problem seems to be in the number of blogs BackType crawls as I have already seen complains from people that are not able to see the comments they leave on some smaller blogs. Besides, the service makes a difference between various URL types so if I comment with the URL http://profy.com and have http://www.profy.com submitted to BackTypem this comment will not show so I’ll have to have both URLs enabled.
Another problem related to identifying users is the fact that they only use URLs to identify a commentator while services like Gravatar, for example, use URLs and emails to provide an avatar for your comment on some blog supporting it. In fact, I believe an email could actually be a better identifier since I tend to use different URLs quite often for comments (like when I want to show some link behind my name but don’t want to include it in the comment itself) while I stick to only one email. This could very well result in strange results for multi-author blogs when multiple editors will leave comments across the blogosphere and they will all be aggregated into one account if they all use one URL.
Another thing I am not comfortable is the way this new startup treats its users and offers preferential conditions to A-listers as we often see elsewhere. What you see on the homepage is a list of “highlights” – some of the most popular recent comments to show activity around. I have not been able to find exactly how the popularity of comments is determined since there are no ratings for comments but I believe it is based on the number of people that choose to “share” comments on their own feeds.
But what’s disturbing is that for some reason the most popular comments all come from the usual people in the notorious A-list (even those that are known to rarely or never comment on other people’s blogs). It is understandable that every service launched seems to desperately want to show the most prominent online personalities that they can get some extra visibility and exposure from their service as well but I still don’t think it is fair to other users, especially since the majority of people those most popular comments arrived from have not even claimed their comments on BackType yet.
This will probably only get worse by offering more and more exposure to already the most followed people since the only thing you get when you go to the “People” tab (unless you do a search for a user based on his or her name) is the list of the most followed users with a “follow” button for every such user so that the already popular users will become more and more popular.
And finally I have encountered one difficulty with the service interface. I honestly fail to understand why the “Comments” tab shows me the most popular comments among the service users instead of comments from the people that I have declared myself interested in by following them? I may be not intelligent enough for BackType but it has actually taken me some time to figure out that the comments from those people I follow can actually be easily found right there in my dashboard. The thing is that dashboard is associated to me with something related to me personally (like editing my account) and I actually expect to find comments (I’m here for them, after all) right there in the “Comments” tab – even though there may be an option to view the most popular ones along with those from people I’m subscribed to.
But anyway even with these issues the startup really looks promising so I hope they will be able to further elaborate it based on what they hear from bloggers on the launch date. One potential application for such a service is to track the brands or products you are interested in using search – those can be brands that you either own or promote as a marketer. Another thing is that BackType can help you find and join discussions you will really be interested in, especially if you dislike being the first to leave a comment on a post: you will always be able to search for a topic you are interested in, subscribe to it via RSS and join some discussions on blog posts as soon as you get your notifications. Another way to use the service for every FriendFeed addict is to use it as another source service using the RSS feed for your own comments so that it could fetch all the comments to the aggregator, even if otherwise your followers could have missed those little gems of your thoughts.
Of course we’ll have to wait and see if the service gains traction but I can see enough potential in it and I’ll be sure to use it myself to track some discussions I might be interested in joining myself. You can follow me at http://www.backtype.com/profy, of course.