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Tangler: Profiting from the distraction economy

New services like Tangler, coComment, and Satisfaction are solving the fragmenting world of user comments.

The fragmenting online media world is leading to a world of fragmented online communities, too. More people are participating in discussions on blogs, and on social sites like MySpace and Facebook. And it's becoming impossible to keep up with all of it. Tangler, which we've covered before, is now in beta and addresses this issue. I thought it'd be good to look at this solution and how it compares to some others.

Tangler is building an embeddable discussion system. Later this month, site publishers will be able to embed a Tangler thread widget onto any post, instead of using (or in addition to) the more traditional blog-based talkback mechanism. One big advantage is that Tangler is real-time, like a chat room. But it archives like a discussion thread. An embedded Tangler-like discussion can make a hot post feel even more lively. See samples of an embedded discussion here.

A Tangler thread, embedded in a blog. Tangler

Initially, Tangler was built as a destination site for discussions, and it still works as such. One of the advantages of this architecture is that since Tangler's database is centralized there's (so far) just one log-in for the entire system. So if you're talking on one blog that's using Tangler and then participate on another that is as well, you'll be able to see all your active discussions on How that's going to square with sites that already have a registration or login system isn't yet clear, although people have talked about using OpenID with Tangler.

Another cool feature: A desktop application that pops up whenever a thread you're participating in is updated. I love this idea. I sure wouldn't want an app for each blog I comment on, but one that covers them all would be great.

The Tangler team still has some work to do before its embedded discussion system will be palatable to publishers. The Tangler branding is a bit heavy, and the discussion window feels like a widget, not an integral part of the sites it's on. Tangler is working on "white label" versions as well as APIs, which should give publishers more flexibility.

Other options: CoComment and Satisfaction

There are other ways to handle discussion overload. CoComment (review), for example, is designed to work alongside existing community feedback systems and keep track of all your discussions. That's harder to do--it requires technology that can intercept data going to various blogs--but it does not require that the blog publishers make any changes. (CoComment has some technical issues, unfortunately, and if you're curious about it, I recommend waiting a while so the team can make it faster and more reliable.)

Other services, like the upcoming Satisfaction (review), are also trying to help users manage their community feedback. Satisfaction has a unique focus on consumer-to-consumer customer support, but the idea is similar: Give site managers a tool for adding community, and give users a place to collate all the community activity they're engaged in.

More established community companies like Jive Software (CNET is a customer) continue to make ever more capable community products for site managers, without trying to skim their users' eyeballs and pop them over to their own site. One might say that the Jive model is more publisher-friendly. As a publisher, I really want my community to be mine, after all.

But I believe we will discover that the newer model is more powerful. As I said, media is fragmenting and so is our attention. From my perspective as a just another Web user (Excepting Webware, I read a lot and comment a little), having one place to track all my discussions would be a big help, and it would likely encourage me to visit even more frequently the sites and blogs I engage with.