The new genre: Comments

Bambi Francisco Roizen · May 16, 2008 · Short URL:

Years ago, while I was at MarketWatch, I recall writing a question about Yahoo in my column. Within one hour on that Friday, I received 200 emails, responding to my question. By the end of the weekend, I ended up with 500 emails, commenting on my piece. Today, what was once in our inboxes is increasingly becoming available for everyone to see. At times I feel that the quality of a story is valued by the number comments it receives. 

Yet, despite the quantity of comments - most of which are vacuous tidbits, like "huh" to "wow" to "!%&@..." - it's unclear, how often they actually add to the story. Essentially, it's hard to know what they're worth.

If they are worth something, to whom? Are they valuable enough for commentators to pay for a tracking system to keep track of their, at times, one-line rants? Or, are they valuable enough that a publisher would pay to have a third-party host those comments? And, if they're so valuable, wouldn't a publisher want to host the comments themselves (in order to own those comments)? Or, are they a requisite feature of a media site - which I believe they are - but are a nice to have? Or, are they valuable to data miners seeking information about how people behave, in hopes of finding the right moment to hit them with an advertisement? Or, are they one day going to be a new platform for would-be writers to acquire an audience? 

I think they're all of the above, depending on who you are.

Those are the questions CoComment, which raised $3.6 million, and is seeking to raise another round in the third quarter, is trying to answer by targeting various customers: Commentators, publishers, marketers. CoComment is tracking comments on 250,000 publisher sites. It powers about 1500. CoComment CEO Matt Colebourne tells me in this interview that his company is considering charging a service to track comments, as well as a service to power comments for publishers (and share in the ad revenue), or selling data to marketers. It's a lot of different models. But sometimes, you just have to try to see what makes sense.

What's in a comment? 

Matt said his company is tracking 15 million conversations. That’s impressive. Yet, there's some mixed reviews about whether comments really drive incremental pageviews. For sites that generate millions of pageviews, comments may only generate 25,000 additional. That’s according to one statistic of a very popular news site (that I can’t mention). If Alexa and Compete are accurate (which some people say not), then coComment isn't exactly generating the kind of unique visitors or pageviews that you'd think 15 million conversations would generate. 

It’s also still unclear what the benefit is of all those comments, if you can’t make sense of them. As I said in my recent post about Disqus, a coComment competitor which just signed a deal to integrate video comments using Seesmic, no one really knows their real value is. "Some of those off-the-cuff or irrelevant comments are like the tons of video clips on the editing floor. There's a reason, they're there. They don't add value to the finished piece. Dialogue or comments are a lot like watching CSPAN. It's not all good. But it's informative and entertaining for the passionate few. Still, some of the comments can be the best part of the entire dialogue, including the post that started it."

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Bambi Francisco Roizen

Founder and CEO of Vator, a media and research firm for entrepreneurs and investors; Managing Director of Vator Health Fund; Co-Founder of Invent Health; Author and award-winning journalist.

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