Angry commenters get a lot of air time, and they can be draining. What if you're just looking for smart, helpful people or information?
Imagine if you are not looking to have an argument about baseball or truffles, but you are actually looking to start a business, or figure out a line of code? Can you do that by trawling through the billions of comments on the web?
The answer, of course, is no. Now imagine if you could do a global search for anyone commenting on anything, in any comment field on any blog or web site, with a content engine built in. Maybe you will soon.
It's coming. William Mougayar's engag.io is currently in beta, and it's a remarkably prescient design, focusing on what I believe will be the central task of web engagement in the next few years—discovering experts you know you want to know, but whom you don't yet know about.
In engag.io, you'd type your search query in a search box to find, say, all the people who have commented on the topic of education. You not only see who said what, or where they said it, but you also see the commenting context around it.
Engag.io will soon move from its beta stage; I spoke with Mougayar about his plans for the company and what's next in the world of commenting. Mougayar is the inspiration for my thoughts here; a Q&A with him follows.
Some People Think Commenting is for the Weak, Some Believe Glory Goes to the Meek
It's easy to classify commenters on the web in a binary way. You are engaged, or you are a lurker. Call it our myopic understanding of how media operates in a hierarchy.
Some people think that even commenting itself is a sign that you are a weak, uninformed troll, who just exists to target inaccuracies in reporting.
I think it depends on the community. Every medium influences people's voice, and every audience creates the dynamics of the medium.
ParisLemon blogger, Michael Arrington right hand man, and vociferous Apple diehard MG Siegler believes that commenting on blogs is a little like the pit below Jabba the Hut's perch in Return of the Jedi.
The Siegler thesis seems to be: Commenting is where otherwise brilliant people who are trying to save the world go to die. Siegler recently turned off comments on his Tumblr blog and then told people that comments as a democracy is "bullshit." He advised people who want to comment on his blog to shuffle off and start their own blog, capping his blog post with the prophetic sounding, almost campaign slogan "Earn your own voice."
Then there is the idea that commenters, who may not own real estate of their own, function to create an idiosyncratic but informed community that helps solve problems, generate ideas, and create products and services.
For these people, commenting is their voice. This is Mougayar's baileywick. He thinks that commenting is a form of blogging and it actually solves a problem that I first wrote about six months ago, which is that we often don't know whom we need to find in order to solve a problem or create a collaborative solution. This has been similar to his experience at VC investor Fred Wilson's extremely commenting-rich blog, AVC.
"Across the social media spectrum, I think that commenting is a stronger signal than liking and sharing. You are more engaged," says Mougayar. "My idea [for creating engag.io] came out of my experience with Fred Wilson’s blog. I found I was developing relationships with people I would end up doing business with or knowing well. Out of conversations you can have relationships, but there was no way to capture that."
Engag.io consolidates all your commenting on Facebook, Twitter, and in commenting fields sponsored by Disqus, to name a few.
Here's a screen shot.
This solves a problem and gets a job done for me in commenting.
When I comment, I am trying to learn. I am also trying to get my name out to as many people as possible, but only if they are the right people. Mougayar plans on incorporating a Klout score or something like it in the commenting search field. When you search for influencers, you will not only be able to find the people who are saying things you are interested in covering, learning about, or adding to, you will also see a "reliability score."
This is the same kind of progress that Kred.com is trying to get for the company PeopleBrowsr. People want to be able to walk into a world, see who is in the room, and who is an expert about the things that they want to talk about.
Imagine if you could port this kind of engag.io methodology and Klout or Kred influence scoring anywhere you want to go. It would mean that your interactions with people in business (shoot, or even in dating) may be more productive.
While commenting for some might be the domain of people who lack a life—I hardly think this is true—for some it is the platform for progress. You can launch a business, find a business partner, even get sales done simply by being available, and searching willingly for the commenting you seek to engage with.
For more on engag.io, here's the full Q&A with Mougayar.
Douglas Crets: Do commenting systems work? What jobs are commenting systems meant to get done for people?
William Mougayar: I think the term "commenting" is limiting. We should think of conversations and discussions. Commenting for the purpose of commenting is one aspect, but if your purpose is to strike up a conversation with another interesting person, then it takes a new dimension. That's what we are supporting with engag.io.
MG Siegler says if you are going to be a commenter, don't waste your time. Get your own blog.
Disagree. If you look at the avc.com community as a prime example, comments + conversations are turning it into a community. There are several active users that are "comment bloggers." They don't have a blog, but they post long meaningful comments, and that's perfectly fine.
Let's talk about engag.io. What problem does it solve? What job does it get done for you and for others?
We are giving the user visibility about the potential relationships behind the comments. First a) it's a productivity Inbox, saving you time to keep tracking of who replied to your comments, where, when, etc...Users are telling us they are seeing stuff they were missing otherwise, b) we "collect" the Contacts (Contacts Folder) behind these discussions you're having and track the Interactions with you. So we're building an "Interaction Graph" for the user. We also facilitate a way to directly contact each other. In addition, you can c) find out the sites that your top contacts are commenting on, d) see the links that are being passed during conversations. We are also aggregating your public social identities into a single Profile page , and if you hover on one of your contact's names and you click on the name, you'll go to their Profile page. An interesting feature there is the 1:1 Interaction history with you when you preview someone's profile eg. mine: http://www.engag.io/users/3 and click on the Interaction History with you in the middle of the page. That's quite revealing.
Finally, there is Search for comments or Users. Now, search is only for your own comments/discussions, but later we'll open it up to a more global search.
[Image: Flickr user almagill]