X-Ray.io – a solution for commenting?

On discovery, commentary and discussion

Peter Main
Dec 23, 2013 · Unlisted

I don’t know about you, but I tend to be the one in my immediate social circle/family sharing the newest cool stuff online. I’m a big Reddit fan and have been for years, so it’s all too easy for me to take that funny cat picture and paste it to Facebook/Twitter so I can ‘reap the rewards’.

Occasionally one of my friends will make a particularly funny comment and the temptation to then take that comment and recycle it back on Reddit is pretty great. I do love karma after all. More than that, I feel that any useful comments that happen on my shared link on Facebook (probably not a cat picture in this case) will be completely lost to the masses, as only my 300-400 friends will ever see them.

Good information should be available to the masses

Being a brit, the BBC is something I feel I can be genuinely proud of. Their news site is usually my first port of call every morning and, therefore, the first of my shared links on social media sites will usually be from there. I realised, after some time, that nobody ever really discussed what I was posting. I might get a few retweets, but ultimately for me, I know that any good discussion was going to happen at somewhere like Reddit. So off I trot.

Problem 1

Where is the conversation?

So first of all, let me back up. BBC News does have a comment section (you might not know it’s there) — it’s proprietary and hard to access (you need to create a BBC ID account) but after that, you’re all good to go. The biggest third-party commenting engine, Disqus, has done a great job with providing webmasters an easy way to let conversations flourish on their site. They account for 75% of all third party commenting engines but are still only generally installed on news and blog sites.

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to take a discussion; I find myself subconsciously taking my funny links to Facebook and my intellectual stuff to Twitter. I have no idea why I do this, and it almost doesn’t matter for there are dozens, if not hundreds, more sites out there I could have posted it to. So instantly what i’m seeing is that any debate that could start, is being diluted and potentially lost to other people.

But I am a redditor, so I decide to submit my link there and hope a good discussion takes off. Part of my reasoning for doing this is because I believe Reddit is one of the best sites out there to culture a good quality conversation…

Problem 2

Stimulating conversation

I believe that certain aspects of a site really help a high-quality, opinion-rich, debate-heavy conversation flourish online:

1. Nesting

Hacker News, Designer News, Reddit and many others do a great job of this. Nesting allows you to have discussions within discussions — as a commenter you can jump in at ay point. If the UI is done correctly an external reader will be able to follow along just fine.

One place nesting is not done well, is Youtube. Most Youtube comments are one sentence long and if a conversation does take off it often becomes illegible after a few nests deep.

2. Voting

Voting gives all users (not just the 10% that comment) the chance to steer the conversation and bury the trolls. By utilising collective intelligence we can ‘compute’ the best comments and give them exposure.

3. Incentivisation

We all love to feel like our comments have resonated with people, so by giving karma, upvotes, points etc we can express gratitude while also democratising the conversation.

Problem 3

Inconsistent UX

We’ve talked about a few of the differences between all the places a user can take their interesting link to try and find a discussion.

Ideal situation
The user would have the conversation on the page that the content appears. So, whether it be Disqus, a proprietary comment engine, or whatever. The problem is that these comment engines only exist on a fraction of sites, and even then they are mostly just blog posts or news articles. Simply put, the user experience is poor, as there is just no consistency across the web.

My Disqus account is useless on a site that doesn’t have Disqus on it.

The next best thing?
You take your link and post it somewhere. Hopefully someone will pick it up and a conversation will start flowing. The problem is that, even if it does pick up, it’s often lost to the masses; few people will know (say 3 months later) where to find that ‘offsite conversation’ and it’ll have to be started again – i.e reposted.

…and all the others?
The others simply don’t enter into any discussion. They give up. Those opinions and thoughts are lost through a surplus of options.


What’s cool about X-Ray.io?

For a few months now, Vish Vishvanath and myself have been developing a discussion platform that we call X-Ray to see if we can counter some of these issues.

It’s always there

Comment on ANY site — not just the ones that have a comment engine installed. X-Ray creates a discussion room from every unique URL. Suddenly product pages, government and company sites, standalone images, profile pages have a comment section for you to discuss in.

X-Ray’s comment box can be resized to suit your preference, while allowing you to continue browsing normally

Comment where it feels natural

Guessing where a conversation about your new favourite article is taking place is no fun. With X-Ray, the answer is obvious — it’s taking place RIGHT HERE. For those that tend to join a conversation late, fear not. The conversation is and will always be permanently attached to that unique URL.

Webmasters need do nothing

No javascript, no messing about with code. Users just install a lightweight extension to their browser to see the comments. Because users are on your site and the comment section at the same time, interaction is greatly improved.


We’re excited to see if users will enjoy the freedom and simplicity of X-Ray. We have a lot more great features in the pipeline that we think our users are going to love. Why not join us when we launch early next year?

Unlisted

    Peter Main

    Written by

    Design at Helium.

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