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Bringing Online Conversation Back Home

A startup helps publishers keep the discussion on their own sites, rather than scattered everywhere.
March 18, 2011

Most of us spend a lot of time talking online, but those conversations are scattered all over the place. Some conversations take the form of comments under a piece of content, but a lot happens on sites unrelated to the source of the content. Now a startup called Livefyre has built a commenting platform that pulls together conversations from across the Web. It lets a website make sure that conversations about its content are centered right there on its own site.

Who’s talking: Livefyre pulls together conversations from many sources. This Livefyre profile is connected to accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn.

Once added to a website, Livefyre’s technology does several things. It turns the comments under a piece of content into a real-time conversation—so instead of having to refresh the page, new comments appear automatically. Readers are also told how many other people are viewing the page or being notified about the conversation, so they know that their comments have an audience. Livefyre also collects comments being posted on Twitter and Facebook, and pulls them back to the original article—centering the conversation at the source.

The startup’s founder and CEO, Jordan Kretchmer, says the technology can help publishers hang on to their readers. By encouraging people to share links on Facebook and other social sites, he says, “publishers are giving away their communities.”

If people discuss content on the content publisher’s site instead, he says, the publisher will get more page views and advertising dollars. This should foster more loyalty among users, he says, and help the publisher learn more about users’ interests. “Everything we’re doing is about getting people to interact again on publisher content,” Kretchmer says. 

When someone views a page equipped with Livefyre, she sees how many “listeners”—others viewing the same page—there are. Kretchmer believes that letting people know that their comments will be read will encourage them to write a response. When a new comment is posted, Livefyre notifies people who are viewing the page. Kretchmer says that 80 percent of people click on those notifications.

The platform is also integrated with Facebook and Twitter, so that users can tag friends on those networks and pull them into the conversation. They can do this by typing an “@” symbol while commenting and selecting the friend from a drop-down menu. The system then notifies the friend that he or she has been tagged.

Users can sign in to Livefyre through a Livefyre profile, or they can sign in using accounts from Facebook, Google, Twitter, or LinkedIn. If the same piece of content appears on multiple sites, Livefyre can keep the conversation below it synchronized, so that both locations show the latest updates.

To make the system work in real-time, the company used XMPP, a protocol originally designed for instant messaging. This makes it possible to keep pages updated with comments as they appear, rather than forcing the user to refresh.

Other companies are trying to solve the problem of conversation fragmentation. Disqus, for example, has the capacity for real-time comments, and can automatically share comments on Facebook and Twitter. A proposed protocol called Salmon could help comments posted on third-party sites find their way back to the original post, as long as both sites involved have integrated the protocol.

Ilya Grigorik, chief technology officer of PostRank, a company that helps clients monitor social activity around their content, says users increasingly discuss content away from where it was originally posted. About 60 percent of the interactions that PostRank has recorded on 1,000 feeds that his company has monitored over three years happened on third-party sites.

At least in some cases, Livefyre seems to have successfully fostered the real-time conversation that Kretchmer hopes for. Spin Sucks, a social media strategy and social media consulting blog that was testing Livefyre during its beta, reported that in six months of using Livefyre, its comments were up 27 percent on average (though the site made other changes that could have affected this statistic).

Livefyre is already available for blogs based on Wordpress, and can work with publishers who use other systems. Kretchmer says the product will soon be available for Tumblr, Typepad, and Blogger as well.

The core product is free. Kretchmer says the company plans to make money by charging for premium features, such as the ability to build applications that use the platform. In the future, he says, the company may also charge for analytics. 

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