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.
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Image courtesy of flickr user Orin Zebest
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