Today, Six Apart is launching three new features for TypePad: enhanced TypePad profiles, a new commenting system, and TypePad Connect, a no-cost combination of services that promises to make participating in and managing communities easier for bloggers on a variety of platforms - not just those offered by Six Apart.

For users familiar with the Six Apart family of products, the profiles will be a welcome step forward from the original TypeKey implementation and the new commenting features offer functionality users have come to expect from commenting systems. But it's TypePad Connect - or more appropriately the vision for what TypePad Connect could be - that makes this announcement interesting.

So What Is It?

According to Six Apart, TypePad Connect "makes community management easier for bloggers with the ability to track, moderate and respond to comments across multiple sites and blogs from one dashboard or via email." In other words, it's your lifestream and your blog conversations - be they on your blog or someone else's - all in one spot.

At first blush, TypePad Connect may appear to be a reactionary response to services like IntenseDebate, Disqus, and Backtype - possibly even FriendFeed. Services that have all but usurped the conversations that once were the domain of individual blogs.

And maybe in some ways, it is. But there's clearly something else happening here.

If it lives up to its promise, TypePad Connect has the potential to combine both popular lifestreaming features and comment-aggregation features under one user profile. And with an open approach, they could do it in a way that allows users to begin to experience the promise of the distributed social Web.

Vision

When it comes to understanding the social Web, SixApart definitely has vision. The company sprung from the early days of blogging, launching one of the first major blogging platforms. They were the birthplace of OpenID, a single digital identity that has continued to gain support throughout the online community. Members of the company remain deeply involved in a number of efforts driving the social Web today.

This move toward a distributed social presence falls right in line with their previous efforts. Like other services with "Connect" in their names - Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect - TypePad Connect has a grand vision of moving personally relevant content outside the proprietary constructs of specific blogs - or even of Six Apart, itself - and making it useful and accessible to other services.

In other words, the same way that Facebook Connect, for example, offers other sites access to your Facebook profile information - saving you the time of establishing yet another profile on yet another service that replicates the information you already have stored elsewhere - TypePad Connect offers other blogs easy access to your profile. And in return, you get the ability to manage all of the comments you make from one spot. Your profile is no longer beholden to a blog or service, it's available to be distributed.

Embracing the concept of community that has the ability to exist and live outside the walls of a given blog or proprietary product is definitely a step in the right direction. (For that matter, it doesn't take a huge intuitive leap to see the value of having a TypePad Connect profile as the endpoint for an OpenID URL.) TypePad Connect could be another step toward the realization of a truly distributed social Web.

Current Reality

Even in its current beta iteration, the offering has some definite benefits. Things like simplified avatar management, lifestreaming of multiple services under one profile, and comment management features from a central dashboard will be appealing to many existing Six Apart customers and will likely attract new users, as well.

But as with any beta offering, there are some downsides and issues.

Ironically, one of the current issues with TypePad Connect is comment management. Even though comments are not stuck on a specific blog, comments are still stuck within TypePad Connect. Allowing users to export comments is on the roadmap, but in the beta version, all comments are currently being held on the TypePad Connect servers. That's a concern.

There's also the opposite problem: there's currently no way to import comments into TypePad Connect. That means if you're starting a blog from scratch, you'll be fine, but if you're adding TypePad Connect to an existing blog, you're going to have an old comment database and a new one. So you'll be managing two sets of comments.

That said, it's a beta. It's expected to have flaws.

Verdict

TypePad Connect definitely has a vision for a far more grand offering than the current beta. No doubt, pressure - be that pressure from users asking for the functionality or pressure from competitors like Automattic (which has begun to amalgamate the ingredients for a similar offering with Gravatar and IntenseDebate) - necessitated Six Apart moving sooner rather than later.

But when it comes right down to it, it's the vision in which I believe. I think Six Apart has a chance to provide a compelling solution for a common problem, even if they're not quite there yet. And once they begin to get closer to that vision, it could change the way we think about managing our conversations online.

Vision aside, would I implement this solution today? To be honest, I'd be hesitant to adopt TypePad Connect on an existing blog until some of the beta kinks are worked out. But if I were starting a new blog today? TypePad Connect would definitely be in the running for my centralized commenting system - even though I wouldn't be starting that blog on one of Six Apart's platforms.

If you're interested in trying it, TypePad Connect offers native support for Blogger, Movable Type 3.x and 4.x, Tumblr, TypePad, WordPress.org 2.0 and higher. It can also support any other installation with a chunk of javascript. Support for additional platforms are planned once the offering comes out of beta.