Commenting on the web is broken. Visit just about any site large enough on the Internet and you’ll notice it. Sure, there are useful comments every once in a while, but there are more comments that are either jokes, stupid, or just downright cruel. Considering the web is supposed to be this great medium for interaction, this is a problem. It’s one Livefyre now thinks they can fix.
When Livefyre did a limited beta launch back in December, their focus was on “intelligent conversations.” Most of those were predicated on Twitter topics though. CEO Jordan Kretchmer realized that using this system to solve the commenting problem on the web would be more interesting. And their investors agree — they’ve stepped up with an $800,000 Series A round to get things going.
Shortly, Livefyre will open its new beta for this commenting system. The first step, Livefyre Blogger, is aimed at individual bloggers using platforms like WordPress, Tumblr, and TypePad. The second step, Livefyre Publisher, meant for larger publishers, will be coming soon. But there’s also a white label version of Livefyre that the service hopes large services will take advantage of (for a fee, of course) to give them access to APIs and other options that free users don’t get.
Obviously, others are playing in this field already. The two best known ones are likely Disqus and IntenseDebate (which WordPress actually acquired in 2008). Another newer player, Echo, has been getting some buzz as well. Each aims to fix the commenting problem on the web by both making it easier to comment, and by giving users incentives to tie comments to their real (or at least established elsewhere) identities. Both of those things work to some effect, but the overall troll problem remains.
Livefyre plans to differentiate itself in two ways. First, they says they’re the first truly realtime commenting system on the web. Others that say they’re realtime still have to ping servers and so “realtime” in that regard is really a delay of about a minute or so, Kretchmer says. LiveFyre doesn’t have to ping any servers for comments to appear on sites because they’re built on top of the XMPP realtime standard. In fact, they’re built using Tornado, the backbone of FriendFeed that Facebook open-sourced after acquiring that company last year.
This is the first major undertaking being built on top of Tornado, Kretchmer believes. And that’s exactly why he thinks he can beat his competitors. Since they started before some of this technology was available, they had to build on top of older systems (read: slower). It would be too hard for them now to do a complete re-architecture, but Livefyre has the luxury of building from the ground up.
How Livefyre’s system works is a bit technical, but basically when a comment is left on some blog, it’s split into two copies. One immediately goes on to the page where it’s being left, while the other goes to the Lifefyre database where it’s stored. These are then synced after the fact to keep things moving in realtime.
The second advantage Livefyre believes it has is the system it’s using to eliminate bad comments. Like other commenting systems, Livefyre is using up and down votes on individual comments — but with a twist. Each commenter has a Livefyre account (which they can set up using Facebook Connect, Twitter, etc — it’s simple), and tied to that account is a point system. When a user leaves a comment that others deem to be good, they earn a point. If it’s bad, they may lose a point. These point totals are kept across the system.
But here’s where things get interesting. In order to dish out a down vote, you give up one of your own points. This is how they will stop commenters from flaming other commenters, Kretchmer says. And it’s not just that. There will still be the ability to leave anonymous comments, but these comments will still be tied to your Livefyre account (users just won’t be able to see who the commenter is), so the point system will still be in place behind the scenes. “We believe in accountability,” Kretchmer says.
There’s other interesting elements to Livefyre’s system as well. For example, you can use the Twitter @ reply syntax in comments, and those can be linked to actual Twitter accounts. When you do that, those comments can be sent back to Twitter letting that other user know you’re talking about them in the comments of a blog post.
You’ll also be able to “check-in” to conversations on livefyre.com to follow topics you’re interested in. This is more like the original version of Livefyre, and it allows you to track conversations happening without having to watch individual blog posts. The idea sort of reminds me a bit of the aforementioned FriendFeed.
Livefyre’s Series A round was led by by Hillsven Capital and also participated in by early stage venture funds, Zelkova Ventures and ff Asset
Management, and angels, Travis Kalanick and Paige Craig. They’ve been using the money to build out this system and make key hires (including key people working on the XMPP standard) and are up to seven employees now.
Below, find our own Paul Carr interviewing Kretchmer about the new service.