Spot.IM, which provides a platform for publishers (including TechCrunch) to manage their user comments, announced this week that it will be renamed OpenWeb.
CEO and co-founder Nadav Shoval told me that the new name reflects a vision that is far larger and more ambitious than the company’s original product, a location-based messaging service.
“We all felt that this was the time to be proud of what we were actually doing,” said Shoval. “It’s about saving the open web.”
In particular, Shoval hopes to move more online conversations away from major social platforms like Facebook and back to independent publishers. To illustrate this, he referred to the recent discussions about the review or revision of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a crucial legal protection for the major online platforms.
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To that end, the company has also released an updated version of its platform, which can include features such as evaluating the overall quality of the conversation for a given publisher, incentivizing quality comments by allowing users to earn reputation points, and even asking users to rethink their comments when it appears violating a publisher’s standards – OpenWeb describes these warnings as “nudges” so you can still post this comment if you want.
“We stopped focusing only on algorithms to identify bad behavior, what we’ve been doing for years and have become commodities,” said Ido Goldberg, OpenWeb Senior Vice President of Product. “What we did here is that we spent a lot of time understanding how we should look at quality and scalability in millions of conversations.”
Courtesy was a big issue in our discussions and demonstrations. Goldberg, for example, showed me how OpenWebs Nudges convinced some users to use less fire language. However, I have argued that courtesy does not always lead to high quality conversations. Finally, racist (and sexist and homophobic and otherwise hateful) ideas can be expressed in seemingly polite language.
“For us, courtesy is the basis,” replied Goldberg. “When things become rude people who want it [have a productive conversation] doesn’t want to be there. “
Shoval added: “There is no silver bullet for high quality discussions.” He argued that OpenWeb is trying to promote these talks without being viewed as “east coast leftists who censor the Internet” – a balance that it tries to find by working with each of its publishers and using different standards in different regions knows. “What we want to do is an endless journey.”