“We’re here today to announce the death of comments.“
That’s what JS-Kit CEO Khris Loux said in his opening remarks at our Real-Time Stream CrunchUp earlier this month. He went on to unveil ECHO, JS-Kit’s new take on how conversations should be happening around content on the web. And today, we’re going to try a limited test of this new system on the TechCrunch Network.
To reiterate, this is just a test that will reside under only this post for the time-being, so let us know what you think.
While at first glance, the comments you see below this post may look like a slight variation of any other commenting system, the reality is much different. Sure, a part of ECHO is made up by what we think of as traditional comments, that is, comments you fill out on a particular article and post to it. But the majority of the content in this commenting area will actually be populated from sources all around the web talking about this piece of content.
For example, say users are talking about this article on Twitter. All of those tweets (that have the URL to this story attached), will be pulled into the commenting area. Same with Facebook, and Google, and Yahoo, and FriendFeed, and Digg, among others. And all of this will be populated in real-time.
And it goes both ways. Maybe you’re making a comment here but you want it to go back to Twitter or Facebook, or maybe both. ECHO handles all of that. The idea is that it doesn’t matter where the conversation is taking place, just that it is taking place, around a specific piece of content.
The service that you may be familiar with that is most similar to this is the commenting system Disqus. But that is still first and foremost a commenting system that adds these social conversation elements as a secondary part. ECHO is all about combining it all in one steady stream. And we think that’s may be the right approach, because as you can see by the retweet numbers on some of our posts, conversations are increasingly happening outside of actual content, and there should be a way to lasso it all in to the central piece being talked about.
Can such a system effectively replace the commenting structure that’s been in place basically since blogging began? That remains to be seen. It’s a pretty ambitious project, and one that is very much going to be about learning on the fly. The initial goal is to grab all of this content, and then refine how it’s displayed and presented, Loux tells us.
For example, maybe it’s not too useful to see 600 retweets by default if none are really saying anything other than the title of the story. That would just be noise. So many those should be grouped together and tucked in a collapsed thread in the stream. That is something that the ECHO team is already working on.
But then again, maybe some of those tweets are very useful as discussion elements on the site, so maybe you want those populated in the full stream. With so much data that will be coming in, it’s just hard to know for sure. And that’s why we’re just selectively testing it now, starting with this post on TechCrunchIT.
It will certainly do one thing: Shake up our commenting system that often seems repetitive, and in a real-time world, very static. Watching ECHO work, it feels much more alive, not unlike the commenting system on FriendFeed. But as we’ve written, that can have downsides too.
If ECHO is able to succeed in destroying commenting on content on the web as we know it, it will cement itself alongside a few other companies working on some interesting aspects of real-time content and conversation consumption. At a high level this of course includes Twitter and Facebook, but right below that there’s TweetMeme and Bit.ly, both of which are trying to utilize and organize the things people are saying and sharing in real-time.
And then there’s Google’s new service that everyone seems intrigued by: Wave. That’s all about real-time content creation and consumption as well, but does so in different ways depending on how it is being used. And the Wave team is adhering to the same “throw it all out there and see what works” mentality that ECHO is latching on to.
And that really speaks to the larger picture for all of this. There are a lot of interesting developments in the so-called real-time space right now (that’s obviously why we did a conference around it), but what exactly will work and what won’t remains to be seen. But something like ECHO is exciting because it really could change the way we interact with content. And hopefully, with this test, TechCrunch will be one of the very first to take the step in that direction.
Again, this is just a test for the time being on one post to see how this system will work, so let us know what you think as well in the comments.
Update: Wow, these comments are rolling in quickly. As such, we’re starting to test some select filters, to see how that changes the flow to make it more readable. Again, this is why we’re testing it here on this one post, to see what works and what doesn’t.
Update 2: Alright, the anonymous commenters had their fun, now we’re switching to a log-in system to see how that works.