Facebook's next big media move: Comments

Multiple sources have told CNET that the massive social network is on the cusp of releasing a product that would allow digital publishers to power their commenting systems entirely through Facebook.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
3 min read

Facebook is planning to launch a third-party commenting system in a matter of weeks, according to multiple sources familiar with the new product. This new technology could see Facebook as the engine behind the comments system on many high-profile blogs and other digital publications very soon.

The company is actively seeking major media companies and blogs to partner with it for its launch, part of a bigger media industry move spearheaded in part by the recent hires of Nick Grudin and Andy Mitchell, media business development executives with respective track records at Newsweek and The Daily Beast.

Representatives from Facebook were not immediately available for comment.

Facebook, of course, is already very present in blog comments. Currently, a digital publishing outlet--say, a blog or a newspaper's Web site--can integrate Facebook's developer API and allow users to "connect" to their Facebook accounts, or can build in "Social Comments" in a widget of related messages. Often, users can post alerts on their Facebook walls announcing that they've commented, or can have a "Social Comment" turned into a status message. The new commenting product is a significantly deeper expansion of this, according to sources. Facebook will be able to power the entire commenting system--handling the log-in and publishing, cross-promoting comments on individuals' Facebook walls, and possibly even promoting them as well on media outlets' own "fan" pages. Undoubtedly, the Facebook "like" button will be deeply integrated as well.

On People.com, only Facebook users can comment. Is this what the broader Facebook commenting platform will look like? (The news story in question is about Justin Bieber going on a date to an R-rated movie with Selena Gomez, by the way.)

CNET has not seen mockups, but it's conceivable that the whole thing could look quite a bit like TimesPeople, a commenting and social news system that The New York Times launched several years ago for its own publication.

One source hinted that the Facebook commenting product may also permit users to log in with Google, Yahoo, or Twitter IDs if a publisher chooses to incorporate them. That's a surprising move considering Facebook's curious relationship with the developer arms of both Google and Twitter--Facebook blocked a Google data-portability product called Friend Connect several years ago, and last summer it blocked a Twitter friend-finder that trawled Facebook contact lists.

It's also not clear how--if at all--Facebook commenting will deal with the tension between Facebook's insistence that members use their real identities, and the fact that much of the commenting that takes place on blogs and other media outlets is still done behind a veil of anonymity.

Whatever the specifics are, this new comments product could have serious reverberations in the start-up community. One source who has seen the new Facebook commenting technology remarked that it's an obvious and direct competitor to start-ups that provide commenting technology, like Disqus and Echo. With Facebook Places adopting much of the "check-in" methodology that smaller competitors Foursquare and Loopt offer, and Facebook Questions operating in the same space as Quora (though Facebook has insisted it's not trying to "kill" it), the social network has shown that it's very willing to move into spaces dominated by start-ups and instantly give them a huge new competitor.

But considering the frequency with which Facebook launches new features, it's inevitable. In the past six months, Facebook has launched the Places geolocation service, a revamped Facebook Messages, and new upgrades to Facebook Photos and Groups--to name a few.

Update 2:13 p.m. PT: Peter Kafka of AllThingsD points out that celebrity news magazine People's Web site has been relying exclusively on Facebook for its commenting technology for a few months now. Some other sites--though few major publishers--have as well, through the Comments Box code.

It's likely that the broader commenting product will look similar, but significantly more enhanced: TechCrunch notes that comment voting like in Facebook Questions will likely be part of it, as will some kind of ranking system for individual users to gauge their activity levels..