Khris Loux and his company, Echo, have always had a tentative relationship with the lowly blog comment. Echo launched in 2009, described as a "blog commenting platform" much like Disqus. Right from the beginning, however, Echo went beyond the comment and aggregated all sorts of real-time data from around the Web to pull into the section normally reserved for comments. Now, Echo has gone beyond declaring the death of the comment and re-launched as a "real-time as a service" platform.
At its re-launch event today, the company brought out the big guns to show off just how useful it thinks its new incarnation will be. We got a chance to talk with them beforehand to go beneath a bit of the flashiness and we got a glimpse of a service that adds a new building block onto the Web and could bring the real-time Web to previously untouched corners of the Internet.
Moving On from the Static Page
When we spoke to Echo CEO Khris Loux the other day, he laid it out for us quite simply.
"In the ways that print gave way to TV, static pages will give way," said Loux. "The challenge for the rest of the publishers on the Internet is that they're running static websites. The revenue has moved on from those sites."
He went on to explain that the primary form of real-time interaction on most sites is through Facebook comments or "likes" or Facebook Connect and, while those are good and valid tools that publishers should still use, they are not enough. According to Loux, the main problem there is that "Facebook and Twitter still control the experience and ultimately control the revenue."
The answer to all of this, of course, is the new version of Echo, which acts as a "real-time as a service" platform. It can help aggregate all manner of real-time data - from Facebook posts to Tweets to comments to blog posts on your own site - and help you and your users to interact with the content.
"Real-Time As A Service"
"We are putting forth the notion of 'real-time as a service.' Just like a start-up would no more build their own data center, a publisher or start-up should no longer build real-time. You could build Plancast with this. You could build Yammer," said Loux. "The Web is becoming designing blocks and Echo, real-time as a service, is the new block in town."
In many ways, Echo has done this all along - it has allowed publishers to pull in and aggregate real-time content to display, in real-time, on their site. The big difference now is that the service is acting more as a real-time platform and less as a simple service to display real-time content. Once it pulls in the data, it stores it and lets you work with it. It "socializes" it. It lets you interact with the data in ways that are based on what users do with it. They can vote content up or down, comment on it, share it socially, and based on these actions the publisher can display it differently. And, of course, it's all in real time. As Loux put it, Echo "doesn't care" what type of content you're dealing with, once it's in the system it can be treated the same as any other.
What Can Echo Do?
If you want to see the new Echo in action, you can take a look at the Sports Illustrated World Cup site from last year, which uses the new service. It aggregates on-site content, tweets and photos to create a real-time site about the World Cup. Another site, set up for teen idol Greyson Chance, shows off the ability to pull in content and interact with it in different ways. In this case, the stream of pictures is created from Tweets using the #WOTL hashtag. But, as Loux pointed out, it would only take another step to turn the entire page into a contest, letting users vote on each others' pictures and displaying them according to votes. That's the type of interactivity that echo is trying to enable with its new service.
Will it work? The company is coming out today with a number of big names, from NBC to Sports Illustrated to Reuters and Newsweek. But these are all companies that could certainly afford to build their own real-time components. The real question is whether or not small companies will use Echo as the real-time building block that Loux envisions. If Echo can bring the real-time Web to publishers big and small alike, in a way that they can interact with and own the content, it could make a big splash. Stay tuned below to watch today's launch event, live from SF MOMA.
Live TV by Ustream Visit the Official e2 Launch Microsite