By Vidya Pradhan
An interesting article in the New York Times talks about how comments are becoming the new social currency on the web. “There are those who have blogs,” goes the article, “and then there are those who leave comments on other people’s blogs.” While the 2 groups may intersect once in a while, there is still a large population of comment writers who roam the web communities leaving their virtual footprints behind. It is to recognize the impact of these unsung participants that Jitendra Gupta and his team developed SezWho, a “distributed context, rating and reputation system for social media sites like blogs, forums, wikis, video/picture sharing sites, discussion boards and anywhere else where people collaborate on the web.” With the proliferation of social media sites, the quantity and democratization of user-generated content often makes it difficult for the lay reader to determine where to find the best quality. Who is adding value to the community and who is just venting? Jakob Nielsen’s article on participation inequality suggests that a 90-9-1 rules applies – 90% of readers never participate, 9% participate occasionally and 1% of the users make up the bulk of the content. In real life community forums, the participation is likely to be much higher. SezWho’s team suggests this is because in real life, there is an incentive to participate in the form of reputation building. In online forums, not only is this positive stroke missing, but since the threshold to participation can be quite high, it is harder to get people to comment. What is missing is a way to encourage online participation by offering a reward and this is where SezWho comes in. The SezWho product allows readers to review comment writers, thus building the writers’ online reputation. The plug-in wraps each comment with a rating box and a profile of the writer, which gets updated every time the writer writes a comment and every time a comment gets rated. About 80% of the writer’s overall rating comes from the ratings from readers while 20% comes from the number of comments the writer posts. This is to take care of the inequality between commenters who write well and those who just write a lot. While there are sites like Metafilter, which are almost exclusively devoted to people who comment, with the primary content taking a backseat to the comment generation, SezWho is meant for existing community and social media sites which would like to have this functionality to both encourage wider participation and increase traffic. How SezWho increases a site’s traffic is rather convoluted but, interestingly, it is through the efforts of the comment writers. The idea is that good commenters will spur cross-site traffic as readers follow them from site to site. For social networking sites the benefit is more obvious, with reader ratings helping new users to locate quality within a mass of content. “The way the web is organized right now is very Web1.0,” says Jitendra. “It is organized around sites rather than people.” SezWho hopes to change that. By focusing on the writer rather than the site, SezWho hopes to build meaningful participation across communities. Providing a way to rate user-generated content also seems like a good idea and the company, which went public with its beta version only about 2 months ago, already has over 110,000 subscribers. In case you’re wondering about the revenue model, SezWho plans to offer paid services which expand on this basic idea in the near future. Also in the works is a ‘Red Carpet’ feature that will allow the site to display the celebrity comment writers it has attracted. Water, No Ice has recently added this plug-in. Do check it out and let us have your feedback.