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 contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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