Distributed Media and Comments

I want to write something and have it run anywhere it wants to be read. My blog is just one place it can be read. It can be read in your inbox via Feedblitz. It can be read in Google Reader, Newsgator, Bloglines, or a host of other feed readers via Feedburner. You can read all of my posts on my profile in Facebook. Maybe some day Owen will pick up one of my posts on Valleywag. Or maybe Venturebeat will run one of my posts. Silicon Alley Insider ran my post about Rhapsody yesterday morning and I like that (and please note the link to my comments right there on Silicon Alley Insider).

I don’t think that content should be consumed exclusively in the service in which it is created. That’s the old model. Command and control. The new model is about creating it and letting it go. Dave Winer and the others who pioneered the feed ecosystem saw this almost a decade ago. I started to understand it when I started blogging and the post I wrote about the future of media has framed my thoughts on this topic for the past several years and led to some of our most recent investments.

I want to practice what I preach. And I will be making some more moves shortly to further distribute the content I create. Nick Denton inspired me some time ago when he told me how they had architetcted the Gawker media content management system. Content is created in whatever blogging tool each blogger prefers. Then, via RSS, they assemble it into the various blogs that Gawker operates. That makes sense. Distributed content creation and distributed content presentation.

But what about comments? They are critical to the blogging experience. I know enough to start an interesting conversation but I rarely know more than my readers on any particular topic. Comments let you finish what I started.

What happens if my posts start showing up in Valleywag, Venturebeat, Silicon Alley Insider, and countless other places on the web? Where do the comments reside? We can’t have one set of comments for each place the posts reside. We need a centralized place for all the comments to be collected and presented.

The comments could continue to reside at avc.blogs.com and everyone could point back to them. But I think it’s actually better to put the comments somewhere else hosted by a service that is focused exclusively on improving the commenting experience. I’ve been using typepad for four years now and I’ve come to realize that they can’t or won’t address the shortcomings of their comment system. That’s understandable. They have a lot of things to focus on; MT, Typepad, Live Journal, Vox, and hundreds of features inside each of those products and services.

I sort of accidentally chose Disqus. They needed a well-read blog to demo on at YC demo day. I said yes without really thinking through the consequences. One of which has been that the commenting experience on this blog has been less than optimal in the past two weeks. Some of my top commenters hate disqus. But we’ve given disqus the feedback and we’ll see how they deal with it. If they built the service in 10 weeks, I am willing to give them another 10 weeks to fix it. After that, we’ll see how well everyone likes it. If they don’t get it working to my satisfaction (which will be a reflection of yours), then I can easily pull all of your comments out of disqus and go with something else. Honestly I am pretty confident that I won’t have to do that.

But disqus has already solved (not without its bugs too) a problem that has been bothering me for years. My feed now comes with a comments link. You can see right in the feed how many comments a post has and click to see them. Some have suggested that the feed link should be to the comments page on my blog. I am not sure why that has to be the case. What if disqus hosted the original post and the comment thread? What’s the difference in that content being presented on my blog or on disqus as long as it is presented in a familiar post + comments format? Given the slow page loads on my blog page (due to my widget obsessions), it might be faster and better for the all the links to go to avc.disqus.com instead.

That is where disqus collects all the comments anyway. What they are presenting at avc.blogs.com is the comments on the post via javascript. I realize there are problems with the javascript presentation. They need to fix that, or go to some other approach.

But here’s my point. We need to think of content as bits that can be created, assembled, re-assembled, anywhere at any time. Because that is, in fact, what digital content is. I am slowly but surely breaking the content I create up into parts and creating them in different places and then re-assembling them in various ways. The posts I write and the comments you and I create don’t have to be housed in the same system and they aren’t anymore. And I think that’s a lot better.