Companies presenting at this week’s DEMOfall conference point to a trend: A growing number of Websites designed to collect and index the everyday interactions of surfers, from casual conversations to blog comments,
The idea is to draw from the information trapped away in the minds of the internet’s ordinary users, who don’t have their own webpages or blogs but do have specialized knowledge — untapped outside of forums and chat rooms.
These companies hope to make money by running advertising alongside discussions — thus continuing a dependence upon advertising as the business model for most internet companies, although Attendi may eventually develop a pay model centered around subject experts who charge for their time.
Attendi, which is presenting on Monday, provides users with a place to show off and build upon their own expertise. Users will be presented with a place to chat with each other about subjects they are interested in — for example, motorcycling. The site’s search engine will then parse the conversation for relevant information and archive it for later user searches on the subject. It seeks to eventually become a portal for much of the web’s knowledge. (Quite the modest ambition!)
CoComment, by contrast, focuses on following existing conversations on other websites, primarily the comment sections of blogs. Users can pick out the discussions that matter for ongoing perusal. Worthwhile conversations are saved and made available to user groups interested in the same subject. CoComment had already launched prior to DEMOfall; it is now releasing more ways to share the community’s findings, adding in buttons to quickly submit content to aggregators like Digg. For our previous commentary on the site, look here.
A third company, Berkeley, Calif.,’s RelevantMind takes yet another approach to picking out worthwhile discussions, mining forums in niche categories like road cycling to extract information about products. The idea is that someone researching a product should have access to more than the “one-way” discussions embodied by the the current form of user reviews, and that the best way to fix this is by digging up online dialogue between passionate users and making it easy to parse. It has an index of nine million posts and 500,000 topics, spread across a small handful of sites.
With such a profusion of startups attempting to mine their users for knowledge, the question is which among them will find enough content, or enough users, to create a lasting site.
Attendi strikes us as a long shot: By attempting to create another social networking site, they risk throwing a party but not having anyone show up. The site’s creators say they want to start off by focusing on small, engaged communities. For instance, they have done work with the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. Relying on sufferers of a disease to start a community, however, is nothing new; niche sites such as PatientsLikeMe are banking on the same idea.
CoComment, on the other hand, doesn’t cast a wide enough net. The set of readers who are engaged enough to want to save and follow conversations from blogs is relatively small. Although the site was started back in 2005, it has yet to attract a significant user base, and may never do so.
For its part, RelevantMind has found an attractive niche; however, it faces a steep uphill battle against two competitors who are already entrenched — Bazaarvoice, which just raised $9 million, and Power Reviews, which also recently raised $15 million. The two companies have already secured deals with hundreds of retailers, giving them a reach and visibility that will be hard to match.
Whether any of the sites above are successful, we’ll no doubt be seeing more startups centered around accessing the untapped knowledge of individuals.