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Email is the bane of many people’s lives, but at least most users only have a single inbox to worry about. If you are trying to keep up with comments and other social input from blogs and Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn, not to mention other social sites you use, it can be overwhelming. That’s the problem a startup called Engagio is trying to solve: The company’s “social dashboard” service, which has been in private beta for several months, launched officially on Wednesday, backed by seed funding from Union Square Ventures partner Fred Wilson and a number of other investors.
One of the interesting things about Engagio is that the service probably wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for blog comments — specifically, the comments section on Fred Wilson’s blog, where the Union Square partner spends a lot of time responding to questions and interacting with his readers, many of whom are startup founders or venture investors. Engagio founder and CEO William Mougayar is one of Wilson’s regular commenters, and the service was born last fall after a discussion about the difficulty of keeping track of comments across multiple blogs and other social services like Facebook.
“The idea came out of me participating on Fred’s blog and other blogs, and how the experience was very fragmented — I had to go to multiple places to check for replies, and I wanted to be able to track that kind of thing so I could see who I was interacting with,” Mougayar said in an interview before the Engagio launch. The founder, who at the time was involved in another startup called Eqentia, said Wilson suggested he do something about it. “He said to make it like Gmail, but for the social web,” Mougayar recalls. “A social inbox.”
Eight weeks after the idea came up, the startup had a product ready for testing, and Wilson announced the beta on his blog in Dec. 2011. The service has gone from just 20 users to more than 3,000 before the official launch, Mougayar said, and has raised $540,000 in seed funding to help scale the company to the next level — which includes adding servers and staff, but also adding support for more social services. In addition to Wilson and Rho Canada, the seed funding came from venture funds such as Extreme Venture Partners and Bullpen Ventures, as well as individual angels including Mike Yavonditte, the CEO of New York–based startup Hashable.
Engagio currently allows users to connect to their accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Tumblr, as well as Google+, the Disqus blog-commenting service (which Union Square Ventures is an investor in) and other services such as Foursquare, as well as web forums, including Hacker News. Engagio pulls in any comments, replies, messages and other updates and displays them in a single inbox — and can post any responses back to those services as well. Mougayar said the company is planning to add support for other social services, including the Q&A site Quora and forums run by StackExchange.
Mougayar said that while there has been a lot of backlash recently about blog comments and what some see as a lack of value in them — with some bloggers and sites defending their decision to turn off comments altogether — he believes that commenting, when done well, is “probably the most significant social gesture you can make today, more valuable than sharing or liking or linking.” Relationships that develop with bloggers and even other commenters around discussions on a site can be very valuable, the Engagio founder said, and his connection to Wilson is a perfect example.
After playing around with Engagio during the beta, I can say that it is definitely useful to see all of my social interactions in a single place, and it is much better to have them organized together instead of getting email notifications from Facebook and Twitter in my regular email inbox. The only concern I can see is that Engagio’s inbox could become just as overwhelming as my traditional email, but that could be because I belong to so many different social platforms — and the service does allow users to mute specific contacts or hide services if they become too noisy.