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.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Jeremy Epstein

    the challenge with the feed showing comments is that the data is static. I get the feed and it says “0” comments. For all I know, in the few hours between when the feed is pulled (I use a desktop feed reader) and when I get to it, there is a lot of conversation that COULD happen, but I won’t see it.just my $.02

    1. Jason

      It is dynamic, but the number of comments for the feed is not live (FeedBurner caches the results and updates it at a set interval).

  2. AlFromChicago

    Great post Fred. What I would like to see is whenever I comment on a post, anywhere on the web, it shows up on my own blog automatically. So people who find my blog can see wherever else i’ve commented — and of course will link back to the conversation. And it would be great if you could tell Yahoo! or Google search who you are — so anytime your name is googled they come back with your blog your comments, etc.Providing your comments on your feed is a nice start, and I haven’t seen the recent RSS reader stats (or web pages that publish from RSS feeds, like BuzzTracker.com), but it won’t really solve the problem until there is much wider adoption of your feed as the mechanism by which people find and consume your content. I know in youru case, given your readership it may be quite high — but for the rest of the world I doubt it..

  3. patwoodward

    Key points- “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.”Another issue is a reader/consumer having to come to where the content was created to interact and respond to it. That is inhibiting and not only in the context of blogging.

  4. Nick Davis

    Very interesting and true. Do you think this also applies to injecting adverisements in a traditional “syndicated” (as in TV, a la Oprah) model, where the content creator packages some ads with their content, and let the publishers add in their own ads? Or does the measurability of online meadi mean that the technology could be created to just do a revshare on the content?Also, Google will have to change the way it thinks about duplicate content, or all parties involved could be dinged for showing the same thing.As to Jeremy’s comment, I see the same thing, but it shouldn’t be too hard to solve from a technological standpoint.

  5. Tom Hughes

    I agree with the thrust of the post, both the strategy angle (wide distribution) and the implementation (disqus). The fact that so much of this is low- and no-cost is yet more evidence that the new-media ecosystem is going to bypass conventional media and force a re-alignment. The high-cost barriers to entry (printing presses, video studios) are all but swept away. The surviving barriers (brand recognition, mostly) are more porous, and highly intangible.I want news organizations like the NYTimes to survive, but really their key value-creation will be governance: people will read the Times if they remain confident that the Times management is enforcing a set of standards about how journalism is practiced — standards that promote objectivity and quality of coverage. That aspect of “command and control” needs to survive; and big news organizations should be able to compete on that basis. It’s not too soon for the Times (or any mainline news business) to consider recasting themselves as a blog network.What’s remarkable is that these high-stakes questions are being thrashed out in public, in posts like this, in the microcosm of one person’s blog.

  6. Rahul Gupta

    This idea of a centralized comments depot is exciting. The thing that really excites me is what it could do to a community, and change the quality of discourse. If AVC readers have developed a community within the comments of your posts, it stands to be shattered or enhanced depending on how one feels about the community. Suddenly the conversation is opened up to readers of other blogs/sites where a particular post happens to have overlap.Suddenly, your “Rhapsody Hooks up with MTV” post generates a conversation including entrepreneurs, audiophiles and teens. Some people might really enjoy the different points of view, others might just want “those punk kids off my lawn!”Great blog, by the way–long time reader, first time poster!

  7. cyanbane

    I think there is going to be a very gray area about the difference between someone reproducing your content and acquirement of commments (directly about your writing), and someone discussing your writing and acquiring comments. As much as I agree it would be nice to have a central repository for everything, how do you define what should be a comment about your writing in the context of your blog and someone else leaving a comment about your writing in the context of another site? I feel like you are pretty clear and concise on your opinion, but that doesn’t mean that the way in which your writing is presented elsewhere will convey the same message (because of the context it is a part of on another site). Also, for the average blogger, what percentage of people’s writing gets reproduced else where in full with no opinion (to collect comments for this overarching system?)

  8. Emil Sotirov

    There must be some telepathy happening between Fred and Jon Udell – see this from today:http://blog.jonudell.net/20

  9. Robert Seidman

    Fred, I like the premise but can’t figure out how you’d get paid. I understand this blog isn’t how you make your living, but decentralizing everything would cause real issues for those who do make their living from their content. I’m pretty sure if you can solve the “how do i get paid” problem you will see the products you want built and used. Without solving that….no chance.

    1. fredwilson

      robert, you must put the ads right into your content, like i do with the feedburner ads that are in my feed. they travel with the content wherever it goes.

  10. Steven Kane

    Fred, I agree in theory with the vision of content as free floating bits in the networked ether, but in practice, I would humbly submit that you/AVC are a special case — you create content as a sport or hobby, not as a business, so you don’t really care about revenues/residuals/royalties.But for those who create content as a means to try to earn a living or some income — whether blog posts, comments and texts, videos, audio, images, whatever — I just can’t get my mind around the idea that content should be free for repurosing without some sort of DRM or revenue sharing agreement or whatever.In short, as a practical matter your vision boils down to eliminating the distinction between legitimate syndication and piracy, no?Also, if memory serves, a while ago, didn’t you have a problem with a pseudo-blogger who created a pseudo-blog, replete with AdSense ads and evenues, where the content was essentially entirely carbon copied over from AVC?

    1. fredwilson

      steve,that happens to me from time to time, but i generally ignore it. spam blogs are one of the many “environmental” issues on the web.as i said in my reply to robert, the key is to put the ads right into the content so they go wherever the content goes.fred

      1. Steven Kane

        I’m still a little confused1) whats to prevent others from removing the ads in my free-floating content?2) what revenue sharing/royalties/syndication deal(s) will apply?on #2, are you imagining some sort of one-size-fits-all rev share/syndication/royalties deal for the entire universe of content pridycers and publishers? if so, again, from a practical perspective i dont se ehow that works. rolling stone magazine should pay higher rev share than AVC. rolling stones (the band) should receive higher rev share/syndication/royalties fees than The Steve Kane Garage Band. no?

  11. DAR

    “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.”Um … actually it doesn’t. Dunno if Bloglines is stripping them or disqus is just not making it happen, but there’s definitely no comment links in your feed.

    1. obscurelyfamous

      Specific feeds can be enabled by the blogger when he/she wishes to.

      1. fredwilson

        what does that mean Daniel? is there something DAR needs to do to see the comments link in bloglines?

        1. obscurelyfamous

          DAR doesn’t need to do anything, but it’s something you can do with Feedburner. I think Jason is sending you an email about it now.

  12. Stephanie

    Fred – take a look at Mark Potts’ Aug. 20 (yesterday’s) post on the same topic at recoveringjournlalist.typep…. Interesting that it should be on the same issue, with a number of the same conclusions — from two entirely different points of view: Mark is an ex journalist, now digital consultant (we ran the internet ops at Cahners together years ago) trying to help newspapers leap into the 21st century or at least… survive it.

  13. RacerRick

    Now you just need to get off of Typepad.

  14. Rick Burnes

    DAR, I’m not seeing the comments link in Google Reader either.I get Email This, Technorati & Delicious, but no Comments.

    1. obscurelyfamous

      Specific feeds can be enabled by the blogger when he/she wishes to.

  15. WayneMulligan

    This just continues to hammer home Hagel’s “Content, Community and Commerce” principles. Nowhere in that does it say “Technology” – it doesn’t matter if the technology (which is all a comment system is really) resides on one serve or another, as long as the CONTENT can be imported/exported and presented properly is all that matters.It just shows how commoditized technology becomes over time. What really matters is the content and the community with respect to creating opportunities for commerce. And even more importantly, it’s how we choose to present that content. Because at the end of the day we can pick up any newspaper and we’ll likely see similar stories (maybe with a different political agenda behind the writing) – but it’s how that content is presented (especially in a digital medium) that really makes all the difference.

  16. Geoff

    The number of comments is now appearing in my google reader, However, disqus seemed to have lost my original signup – although it now appears above. All weird.What would be good is if this comment strand had an associated RSS feed that I could subscribe too ..

  17. fewquid

    “We need to think of content as bits that can be created, assembled, re-assembled, anywhere at any time”Amen to that. Retrieve, repurpose and redeploy everything everywhere.I hope you liked that part of our business plan 🙂

  18. greenskeptic

    This is a great idea. I’ve been wrestling with something similar regarding blog posts I write on The Green Skeptic. If I write something about social entrepreneurs, I’d like it to post to certain social networking sites/groups I manage (such as changemakers.gather.net). Can I do this with feeds? I’m not sure. You see, I don’t want my posts on climate change, clean tech, or microfinance (the other topics I write about) to appear on my social entrepreneurs groups, so a generic feed from my blog won’t do. Plus there are different protocols for posting/formatting on gather, zaadz, etc. Not sure how you override those…Any ideas?

  19. Druce

    doesn’t really need to be hosted lifestream… digital signature can accomplish same.ie before I post here, require me to log in to my Google account. Google pings the blogging platform that I am indeed that user.When Google spiders, it could then identify everything I posted (details left as an exercise for the user :-). Google could then provide an API that streams everything I post across all sites.Either way, there’s a central store of everything you do via that platform… some people might not like the privacy implications, but then I guess they don’t need to post on the public Internet if they don’t want to.

  20. Paul

    While I don’t argue with your comments, I think it generates an other (MAJOR) problem that Disqus will have to address. If DIsqus becomes a/the aggregater of blog comments, then they must become a/the definitive comment Spam solution. If they succeed in aggregating comments, they become a more attractive target for spammers of the world – one target to focus on, crack into, and let Disqus syndicate their spam for them.

  21. Dan Kaplan

    Hey Fred,Funny that you mention VentureBeat: I’m based in NYC and have been contemplating approaching you for a VentureBeat interview, but haven’t mustered the chutzpah to ask you for your time, but now I will. We have a guest column section, and we’d love to have you riff on anything venture/tech related for the sake of the VentureBeat audience. If you feel that this would be redundant, then perhaps we can do that interview after all…?

    1. fredwilson

      dan,send me an email. my address is linked to on the left sidebar of this blog.happy to talk to venturebeat.fred

  22. jackson

    Well, Daniel Ha and your boys at Disqus may be providing one thing that you want, but I’m still waiting for the comments section to get in line with what I want – chronological comments, and nicer looking template that doesn’t hurt my eyes. If I gotta squint to see something, well then it’s wrong. And what are the points for? Seems silly unless you can win something. And, now I see that the template does not remember me, it will after this comment, as long as I stay on this blog, but if I leave, I’m forgotten.Don’t give me that ‘become a member’ b.s. – I’m tired of logging in to a different platform everytime I move on the web.How hard is this stuff?Ten weeks is a long time.

  23. Jen Grogono

    I couldn’t agree more that the future of media is all about content living everywhere. Traditional networks and aggregators will work hard to fight against this model, but sooner or later they will realize that they must compete on “experience.” Consumers will demand it. I co-founded a new media company in Austin, Texas called ON Networks, which is built on this fundamental. Our content — which today happens to be in the form of original short-form TV series — comes from professionals all over the world and we distribute it across every screen and every platform. Although we’re only a year old, our shows have already made their way onto TV, mobile devices and of course multiple Websites. Our advertising model is also based on multi-screen, multi-platform consumption; we have a content-based (vs. network based) ad system so that allows brands to travel with a show wherever it may go. For an advertiser, the effect of our model is the re-aggregation of a continuously fragmenting consumer market, something no network ad buy (even during the superbowl) can offer … Fred, if you’re in town for ACL again this Sept, look us up!

  24. David Armstrong

    Agree…distribution and subsequent defrag of it based on user preferences is key. As I know Web 2.0 (gag) is an overhyped term…I think this type of thought is what is creating the next, and proper evolution.

  25. ppearlman

    is v generous of u to share with me and all of yr readers such ideas as in this post and the one u link to from 11/05 (the future of media). thanks.

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  28. Rahul Gupta

    Andrey, thanks for the distinction. I agree — it *is* the utility that is of value.There would still be the problem of the comments ultimately being under the control of a third party. Some of the discussion here has pointed towards multiple vendors providing services which make these discrete of pieces of data available in perpetuity to be remixed in whatever fashion people desire. This would be great, but it’d be preferable if they were all exposing the same API.Perhaps it would make sense to allow bloggers to decide where the repository for comments is going to be — even if it’s on their own blog, using an standardized markup and open source tools to allow the sharing of data across various websites. A challenge this presents, however, is that if my site includes various posts from different blogs, and each of those blogs is openly hosting their own comments, the loading of my site will be influenced by a myriad of other sites of varying quality. Looking at this blog and all of the plugins up and down the sidebars, maybe it’s not a big deal.