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Livefyre Takes A New Approach To Commenting With Web Annotation Product Sidenotes

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Online comments are usually cordoned off at the bottom of a page, but Livefyre is hoping to bring them into the content itself with the launch of a new product called Sidenotes.

Basically, it’s a product that allows visitors to annotate and have a conversation around individual pieces of content on a web page. Once a publisher has turned it on, little word balloon icons will appear alongside each paragraph on the page, as well as in images. When you tap on the icons, you can see any comments (arranged in threaded conversations) that other users have left, and you can leave a comment of your own.

When founder and CEO Jordan Kretchmer demonstrated the feature for me last week, it looked to me like a nice solution to the problem of introducing annotations without totally overwhelming the page. The Sidenotes icons are easy to spot and understand, but you can also ignore them if you want — I hate it when comments force themselves on your attention when you don’t want them. And Sidenotes uses an upvote/downvote system, so hopefully the best comments will rise to the top.

Kretchmer also showed me the mobile interface, where Sidenotes open up in a small window at the bottom of the screen, and you can swipe to move between individual comments.

sidenotes mobile

Oh, and even though the conversations are linked to whole paragraphs (otherwise there would probably be way too many word balloon icons), you can actually get even more specific, tying your individual comment to any specific piece of text, or sharing a link that goes that text.

Kretchmer described the larger goal as turning “the entire web, every major media company in the world” into “a giant, annotaable canvas.” In fact, he said his vision for Livefyre was always to do something that “broke the format of comments,” but for the company to win publishers over, it had to start with something more traditional (namely, the existing Livefyre platform).

He predicted that the Sidenotes approach will result in more comments, because people will feel more comfortable responding to an individual sentence or paragraph or image than to an entire page. (And the company plans to add comments tied to timestamps in videos as well.)

Kretchmer said Livefyre has spent a lot of time discussing the size of the “social object” that comments are addressing: “If I’m interacting with a regular comment stream, the entire page is a social object. The smaller the social object, the better the interaction.”

Sidenotes is available to all Livefyre publishers, whether they’re large companies using the paid StreamHub:Core product or bloggers using the free WordPress plugin. Sidenotes will also be available on Storify, the social curation service that Livefyre acquired last year.

As an example, you can see Sidenotes live on record label Interscope’s lyrics pages for the band Imagine Dragons, including this one.