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Summary:

The buzz around upgrades to Facebook’s nascent comments service makes it sound as if the social network is about to launch another world-dominating technology. In reality, that’s an unlikely scenario, since there’s still plenty of room for competitive innovation as far as comment systems go.

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The buzz around CNET’s story on upgrades to Facebook’s nascent comments service makes it sound as if the social network is about to crush companies like Disqus and Echo and launch another world-dominating technology. I’m skeptical. As I discuss at in my weekly update at GigaOM Pro (subscription required), there’s still plenty of room for competitive innovation as far as comment systems go.

As part of its widely adopted Connect service, Facebook launched a comments plug-in, which is now the default commenting system on People.com. Last fall, the company bolstered the comment service by adding voting and threading. Like Facebook Likes and Connect, a more robust comments system could weave Facebook threads far beyond its own site, while providing rich data for Facebook ad targeting. Remember, of course, that Likes and Connect caught on like wildfire when they were first released. If Facebook is serious about comments, it will get plenty of attention from publishers and other sites that embrace consumer comments (e.g., retailers, corporate sites, financial services). Comments could even play a role in enterprise collaboration.

So with all of Facebook’s strengths, where does that leave competitors? Sites like Disqus, Echo, IntenseDebate and Livefyre should remember that Facebook’s advantage in this space is currently limited to its user base and potential distribution. For those companies and others, here are a few ways they can differentiate themselves from the social media behemoth:

  • User identity: Current players use the old familiar “embrace and extend” strategy by enabling and integrating Facebook log-ins with those from Google, Yahoo and the publisher’s own. To date, Facebook has not integrated other log-ins, and it delivers single sign-on by superseding the native log-in system. Nor does Facebook share “ownership” of the customer, or data about him. Some sites may want to preserve user anonymity or support different user personae.
  • Customer service: Facebook’s developer resources aren’t infinite. Companies can likely do better customization and integration with content management systems, and offer white-label unbranded options.
  • Moderation and ratings services: Comment systems should invest in tools supporting moderation and commenter credibility, and even consider offering professional human-based moderation. Livefyre has a clever points system to encourage quality and prevent flames and off-topic commentary.

Read the full post here.

Image courtesy of flickr user Orin Zebest

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  1. Agreed.
    Facebook will make inroads into commenting, but most sites don’t really want a community as this hampers their mobility and takes a lot of effort to direct the discussion and crowd.

    Pioneers like Slashdot still have far more interesting discussion than I’ve seen on almost any other site that uses a 3rd party discussion mechanism (slashdot uses a custom 3-tier user moderation system with extensive admin corrections).

    Amazon is another great discussion site, and they have other innovative ways to raise signal over noise (ie, tying reviews to purchases, etc).

    Ultimately, what sites will realize that they need to curate the discussions for any network effect to take place.

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  2. Facebook has dominated social integration so far. “Like” buttons and Facebook Connect have expanded Facebooks’s reach to all corners of the Web. There is no question Facebook comments will be very important but it is uncertain whether or not Disqus, Echo and others will be able to survive. I wrote a post about this potential battle in the coming months on “Let’s Chat Business”: http://letschatbusiness.net/2011/02/01/facebook-poised-to-reveal-comment-platform/

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  3. And here’s Facebook’s explanation of its technology strategy to support real-time comments. http://www.facebook.com/notes/facebook-engineering/live-commenting-behind-the-scenes/496077348919

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  4. I can see the benefit for Facebook in being able to track user activity all over the web, and give their audience more reason to login.

    For website owners I’m not sure the proposition stands up just yet. What’s in it for me to switch to Facebook comments?

    If they can make an equivalent product and link it with an effective advertising stream on my site then it could just be the clincher.

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  5. [...] Facebook’s land grab of comments got me thinking about Disqus and other commenting systems.  Clearly we need open standards for comments which we’d all adhere to – which could bridge across platforms like Twitter and Facebook.  As new ‘like-ing’ and commenting systems appear – content vendors have to “keep up with the Joneses”, support yet another plug-in and so on and so on……………..  So why can’t we “aggregate” comments and store them in a comment format – and daisy chain these systems together?  Users will benefit for sure – and memes can cross vendor boundaries.   None of that was brought up at all in this post on the danger Disqus is in – right now. [...]

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