Kutano Hopes To Draw Crowds In Crowded Online Commentary Space

Why do online commenting start-ups keep beating their heads against the same wall? Kutano, a browser add-on that lets users read, write and search comments side-by-side with any webpage, launched at DEMO today. With over one-third of the 1.574 billion internet users worldwide participating in online commentary and forums, Kutano is joining a slew of other start-ups hoping to capitalize on this growing trend by providing a free and open stage for online discussion.

As we wrote about last fall, there have been many online discussion add-ons and services developed to allow users to share unmoderated commentary on webpages, but very little traction for most of them.

Kutano’s technology doesn’t appear to be vastly different than its predecessors. Once Internet Explorer and Firefox users (Safari and Linux versions will be rolled out in Q2 2009) download the free add-on, a Kutano, collapsable “window” will be displayed to the right of the browser, which will show the discussions and information related to the specific subject (not by URL) of the web page that is being viewed. The add-on lets users comment on the website and also allows users to search and exchange information on any related commentary on the web (much like Reframe It). This serves to broaden the discussion, but also risks showing disjointed conversations.

Kutano, which means crowd or gathering in Swahili, integrates with Facebook and Twitter, giving users the ability to broadcast commentary on social networks. While Kutano offers users the ability to create specific subject-based commentary, competitor Reframe It provides many more social-networking features, including the ability to follow comments in a RSS feed and upload Gmail and Facebook contacts into the application.

Kutano will undoubtedly confront similar roadblocks that other commentary and Web annotation applications have experienced. The chance of coming across a website with commentary from Kutano users is small, making the side-panel somewhat useless. Like Reframe It, Kutano’s comments can only be seen by users who have downloaded Kutano to their browsers. And as free and open commentary becomes a staple of blogs and media sites, users tend to look and read comments and discussion sponsored by the blogs and news sites themselves. I’m skeptical that users will be looking for yet another open forum for comments and discussion relating to, for example, articles on The New York Times website.