The comment sphere

First, there was the centralized content sphere: big publications that created and controlled content. That lasted, oh, six centuries or so. Then came the distributed content sphere: blogs and the internet, control at the edges but still under individual addresses and brands. That has been around six years or so. Underneath and around this has been the comment sphere: the rich trail of comments, reviews, and contributions people are leaving across the web. That is the truly distributed web, the real edge.

The comment sphere has been unexplored largely because there is no organizing principle. Steve Rubel is right that comments are a next frontier for search. Now there’s a new company that tries to tie together comments under authorship.

Cocomment helps you leave a breadcrumb trail across the web to all the comments you leave so that you can, in turn, both publish that and follow the conversations you’ve entered. And this also creates a new view of the comment sphere (who leaves comments on what blogs) and feeds new metrics (like Stowe Boyd’s conversation index).

It’s a big idea that I’m still trying to digest fully but I like it. Right now, it works with a bookmarklet you use when commenting on certain blog software. That’s obviously limiting. Forgetting technical reality for a moment, here’s a start of a wishlist.

I wish I could collect the crumbs I leave across the web: a review on Amazon, a photo on Flickr, a tag on, a group-podcast soundbite at Schlaflos in Muenchen, a quote in a news story, a hotel rating at Trip Advisor, a forum posting most anywhere, a comment on a blog, an edit on a wiki, and interactivity yet to be invented. I wish I could bake that all together — every bit of it with permalinks and authorship — into a feed on my blog that can be organized in clever ways by topic and content type. I wish I could follow all those bits of conversation. And if I really want to get a headache, I want there to be more layers of conversation on top of all that. Oh, and it needs to be searchable. We’ll figure out the ad opportunities later.

That is my aggregated identity. That is my tsotchketrail. And this, I think, is a first step toward that.

: I’m flattered that the folks behind CoComment say I helped inspire CoComment with this post: “Who wants to own content?” I was told that another post had a similar impact on Tagyu. I say that not just to brag (though I am bragging) but also to argue that such linkages are the real value of what CoComment — and Technorati and Pubsub and such — are doing. As search and tags create a topical layer atop the distributed internet, these guys create an identity layer.

Knowledge and invention are additive but to add up to anything, you have to find the links. The internet is not a medium of content. It is a medium of connections.

: ALSO: If there were a feedback loop on identity — that is, if I could see who left a comment and then see what else they have to say and who they are and what others think of them — this will add a layer of authority to interactivity, which would be wonderful.

: AND: Hugh MacLeod reports that CoComment was funded by a telco. Well, they should care about the new state of conversation, shouldn’t they?

  • Don’t you think it’s kind of interesting that blogging, tagging, wikis, etc. are considered social software, yet we’re only *now* figuring out ways of tracking how, and where, we’ve been social?

    My sense, too, is that if we have better software to track where we leave comments, it might be of interest to Big Media as well as Big Business. If they’re so interested in interaction with us little folks, then they should be commenting as well as reading–and something like the stuff mentioned here (and there are others) could actually help them.

    But will this stuff help people as well as businesses be more transparent? or are we still going to hide behind anonymity and snobbery? Just a thought.

  • Jeff, I’ve been testing this for a few days and it’s pretty nifty – to me, the best feature is putting your external conversations on your own blog – for instance, if you check my blog now – – you’ll find this comment linking back to your post – (update: eventually – they’re in “maintenance”) – now my readers can see what I’m commenting on externally. Almost makes you wonder, in Mo Dowd fashion, are blogs necessary for the conversation?

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  • So I guess we’re all going to have to start being more selective about what we say in comments on other people’s blogs now and should stop posting throwaway and meaningless comments.

    Like this one, for example.

  • What’s so interesting is that the “comment sphere” is an idea as old as the printed word itself given new life by the digital era. There was a time when a text was not just the words written on a page but the cloud of commentary which enveloped it, with sometimes added rings of metacommentary as authors, scholars, and critics participated in a centuries-long conversation over every last iota of content. Whereas in the beginning these hypertexts would be copied and recopied to incorporate the latest “links”, at some point the books became so large and cumbersome to reproduce that the self-appointed custodians of these materials started to leave out the conversation, or at the very least selectively edit it according to what they deemed to be important.

    Although the print revolution made it possible to partially restore this ancient and medieval comment sphere, it is only now with the advent of digital media (where texts can be infinitely long and infinitely connected) that the conversation has returned — but whereas in antiquity this dialogue was meant only for the privileged few, now anyone with an internet connection can join in. And while originally the discussion only pertained to a small set of elite texts, anything and everything is fodder for the new comment sphere.

  • I’ve always thought it would be a clever idea for someone to start a blog within the comments section of other blogs. For instance, the commentbloggerâ„¢ would impart wisdom here in the comments section of BuzzMachine and tell readers the next entry would be in the comments of cuteoverload, and chage the destination everyday. It could be a clever, viral way to bring traffic to unexplored corners of blogdom. And heaven knows there are plenty of ghost town blogs out there that wouldn’t mind the spill over traffic.
    This brilliant idea © me. :)

  • David

    I honestly don’t think it’s going to catch on outside of the hardcore user. It’s a bit much for the average person to go through to comment – and frankly I think a lot of people don’t want their all comments tied together. Some people are transparent about who they are, but most aren’t and would rather just drop whatever style comment on whatever site they please.

  • Scroll down my home page at (disclosure… I am the CEO of Aidpage)… and you will see what I mean.

    Please, have in mind that Aidpage is striving to give voice to mostly disenfranchised people that are not into “blogging”… or “citizen journalism”, or “writing” for that matter. This means that they need a much more “ready-to-use” environment than what blogging offers at this point.

  • I recall an essay by the late Stephan Jay Gould on baseball statistics. It was also an essay on evolution, and how the difference in variability in baseball statistics between the early days of the modern game, and the game at the time he wrote the essay, illustrated how evolutionary pressures worked on our pastimes.

    We’re seeing the same thing in the realm of communication on-line. New technologies are being tried out, new methods, and what does the job best has yet to be worked out. In short, the optimal method has yet to evolve.

    On-line bulletin boards will mail you notification of replies to threads you have posted in or subscribed to. Some allow participants to rate other posters, which in the long run can give people some idea as to who is considered reliable, and who is not. Though there is potential for abuse in that feature. The goal is to help participants keep track of conversations they are interested in, and to give them some idea of who can be trusted.

    It looks like coComment is set up to provide much the same service as a forum’s notification function, with additional utility. Allowing one to see where the conversation has gone should it be taken up on another venue. Would be nice to see what people are saying about my writings in venues I don’t know about. :)

    What will come of all this? I haven’t the foggiest. What seems obvious to us now is apt to be forgotten in a few years. While the obscure today becomes the standard later.

  • Just leaving another trail in cyberspace, a very interesting project, I wonder what I would make of the trail I’ve left behind if I could colate everything together.

    Will continue to monitor this, at the moment, I don’t get it, so have not joined in the bandwagon yet.

    I want to fly a hang glider across the UK

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  • The question of comments is a very controversial one. I myself don’t trust bloggers a lot. And of course even less I will trust the comments’ authors. The matter of trust and information sources reliability.

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  • Your work is marvelous!!