Lady Gaga, BBQ Ribs, And The Invisible Hand That Moves Your Brand's Fans To Respond

Kelly Abbott's Realtidbits provides custom comment systems and visitor data to Lady Gaga, the Washington Post, Suicide Girls, and, among others. Its secret sauce? "Heavy listening."

Quick: Name the product that you can sell and customize for Lady Gaga, the Irish Times, the Toronto Star, ESPN, the WWE,, and Suicide Girls. Give up? Kelly Abbott knows the answer.

Abbot's Realtidbits sells comments and discussion tools, a category that many web-savvy folks might believe has been already solved. Many brands with content to push and conversations to manage buy into established platforms, like Facebook, Disqus, and Livefyre. Such systems scale up and down and offer cross-site accounts, but they are still their own entities that benefit from diverse pools of user data. Commenting through Facebook on a news or entertainment site isn’t really commenting on that site, so much as commenting about a certain page, while connected through one of those discussion services. And while third-party commenting systems can blend in a bit, they're hardly ever designed for the site they're hosted on.

That doesn’t matter that much to a commenter, but to the publisher, it’s valuable engagement that they’re handing to a third party. That’s why Facebook is in the market, after all. And that’s where Realtidbits and its hyper-customizable, enterprise-targeted, data-sharing comments come in.

"We’re helping (publishers) retain the entire value chain," Abbott said. "You’ll never see our logo on it. The data’s 100 percent theirs."

News brands, in particular, are keen to take ownership of a key interaction opportunity with their customers. As Abbott sees it, Realtidbits can help publishers "mend their fences."

"They got their butts kicked by Craigslist. Then they got their butts kicked by Google, with the news portal opportunity. They’re about to get their butts kicked again by Facebook and the others, but this time, they can draw a line."

If Realtidbits offered just a standard plug-in, they might face the same diminished fate as other free-your-data upstarts like kinda-Facebook Diaspora or kinda-Twitter Instead, Realtidbits aims for enterprise-like deployments, skinning and augmenting the comments to fit whatever a brand needs. The same goes for data mining: Realtidbits can set up the interface, or plug directly into suites like Google Analytics.

What Realtidbits actually looks like depends on the client. The Washington Post’s sports forums and most newspapers keep an austere, text-forward look with gray boxes and blue links. The CW cultivates an image-centered, Pinterest-style discussion around Nikita, a poll and voting product for America's Next Top Model, and other shows. There are some standard offerings, like moderation tools and integrating specific Twitter hashtags into comments, but for many clients, Realtidbits writes custom plug-ins to a customer’s specifications. It’s not a plug-and-play service, but it is remarkable to see the same service powering the comments on Lady Gaga’s "Haus" and ESPN’s NFL forums.

Kelly Abbot's 7-minute demonstration of Realtidbit's product.

Realtidbits grew out of a multi-project consultancy that, as Abbott put it, had to make a "burn the boat" decision in the summer of 2011. After deciding to keep the product instead of taking a fee from an early client, the small team decided to shove all other projects to the side and develop a flexible comments system. They knew the market existed, based on the efforts and hand-wringing they saw over comments at large firms. Like Vikings torching their ships to ensure either a successful invasion or death, Abbott’s team started quietly acquiring clients and bootstrapping from that revenue.

Traffic through Realtidbits comments grew just over 2 million uniques per month in March 2012 to more than 150 million by the start of 2013. There’s not viral spread, because the product isn’t available to everybody who wants it. Growth has to continue at pitch meetings and product demonstrations, rather than on the web. Even at the smaller scale of something like the Marriage Equality Pinboard, Realtidbits’ implementation was co-managed by the site director and the system developers, as evidenced by a behind-the-scenes blog post.

"We didn’t design a product for 2 million bloggers, we designed a system for 2 million visitors," Abbott said. "Our main product is an adaptive platform, and some really heavy listening to our customers."

[Photo Mash: Joel Arbaje]

Disclosure: Kelly Abbott's prior business, 3ones, published author Kevin Purdy's book The Complete Android Guide; still, and sadly, Realtidbits caught Purdy unaware when it had its public debut last week

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  • Guest

    I don't see anything in the article that's untrue. Liveyfre claims the customer owns the data, but this is untrue. Livefyre also owns the data and has rights to it. Also, there are no customers we list as customers who are not using our technology. Also, it is untrue that we make false claims. 

    Realtidbits has carved a niche where the incumbents cannot. We were born as an enterprise-only solution and will continue to serve that need in the market. Livefyre, Disqus and Facebook, as consumer solutions born from the needs of bloggers, are only now starting to deal with the very real issue of data ownership and siloing customer/user profile data (if at all). 

    It's a social media land-grab where brands, publishers and media companies far too often yield their real estate to these social networks. 

  • Jkretch

    The information in this article related to Livefyre is inaccurate. Livefyre's Enterprise platform delivers each customer its own specific site network. Our customers own their own user and comment data in its entirety, and the solution is highly customizable via over 50 APIs and SDKs to meet any needs on a customer by customer basis.

    In fact, Livefyre is the most widely used enterprise community platform today, delivering custom community solutions for over 200 customers and over 1 billion pages each month, including 50 of the top 100 publisher sites on the web today which includes TIME Magazine, FOX News, The Daily Beast, Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, X Factor, CBS, AOL, Conde Nast, and Engadget. Each implementation is specific to each of those communities, to the point where you probably don't even know it's Livefyre delivering the content ;-)

    If possible, I would appreciate a clarification in the article that lists Livefyre in that way. I usually don't reply when I see realtidbits making these false claims, but given this is FastCompany and not a small blog, I felt compelled to respond. Additionally, you should check with the companies who realtidbits lists as customers in this article, I think you'd be surprised to see the most would say that they are not even actually customers of Realtidbits.


    Jordan Kretchmer, CEO, Livefyre

  • Leo MacLehose

     As a sidenote, all of our App users will be Facebook connected, but not necessarily our website users.



  • Leo MacLehose

    Excellent article Kevin, 

    I think I'm going to give this a try on my website, caught me at the right time as we are looking for the best platform for commenting, one question though:
    (by all means tell me you have no idea what the answer!)

    We have an iPhone app, where some of our articles are published, is there iOS plugin so that the same stream of comments can be posted in our app, (also vice-versa, whereby comments from people using the app show up on the website).

  • KellyAbbott

    I can answer that!

    So, yes, we do support mobile and in-app commenting. The best example I can show you now is the Irish Times iphone app which has our comments embedded: it up and you'll see they've done a good job. Our product will work in that scenario as well as a responsive HTML5 style layout as well. So if your users access your site via their mobile phones, commenting adjusts automatically to that form factor and makes it easy to log in and leave comments using their tablets and mobile devices too. As for Facebook connections, that's no problem either. If you are handling their ID via that mechanism all you'd need to do is pass their ID to us so we know who's doing the commenting. You can read about our SSO capabilities in our documentation here: http://documentation.realtidbi...

  • KellyAbbott

    Thanks for the write-up, Kevin. Great research too. I hadn't noticed the contentwrangler post until now. You even taught me something new about my company!