Turns Web Into a Popularity Contest

Startup promises a new kind of online commenting

Got a strong opinion about Barack Obama? What about Rupert Murdoch? A new startup called wants to make it easy for readers to share their opinions about public figures and for publishers to track those opinions.

Co-founders Chris Lyman and Corey Brundage said that after a publisher installs the plug-in on their website, special links will automatically be added when famous names like Obama and Murdoch appear. If readers click on those links, they'll be able to vote on whether they "Love" that person or "Not." Then they can scroll to the comments section of the article to see the poll results on that site and across the entire network.

This might sound like a superficial gimmick at first, but Lyman and Brundage are pitching this as a way for publishers to create more engaging, longer lasting conversations. Readers can post comments with their votes, and those comments aren't isolated in a single article. When you look at the results for, say, Obama, you'll see every comment that a reader has made about him on any article on that site—and conversely, if you comment on Obama, you're participating in a site-wide discussion.

Of course, like any survey, there's a risk that someone could game the system—a website or a celebrity could call on fans to pile on with positive votes. That's certainly a possibility, Lyman acknowledged, but in the case of really big names, there should be too much data for any one publisher or person to skew the results. (which is officially launching today) has already been in testing with some websites such as The Moderate Voice, and through those tests, Lyman said that Obama has already received enough votes that it's hard to shift his rating.

Speaking of The Moderate Voice, says that the site has seen a 41 percent increase in time on site and a 72 percent increase in page views per session since installing the plug-in. (Each comment links to an article, so readers will probably end up clicking on more links.)

Behind the scenes, has created a database of politicians, athletes, celebrities, and business leaders, as well as analytics tools so publishers can see who's voting on which articles and what they're saying. If publishers choose to allow it, readers can also vote on whether or not they like an article's author, although those results are hidden from the public. The vision isn't limited to people, either—the company plans to introduce a similar voting system around topics and issues, and company names seem like another opportunity. has raised $500,000 in funding from a number of Southern California-based entrepreneurs, including Jeffrey Stibel, CEO at Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp.; John Zdanowski, CFO at PixelFish; Alex Kazerani, CEO of EdgeCast; and James Segil, president of EdgeCast. Thanks to the funding, Lyman (who previously founded and led the startup Fonality) said he isn't focused on making money yet. He wants to avoid charging publishers, and instead plans to eventually offer a revenue-sharing arrangement on advertising.