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Interview With Jon Fox, IntenseDebate Co-Founder
We’ve written about all of the new blog comment replacement services over the past few months. I recently had a chance to interview IntenseDebate developer Austin Hallock on our sister blog HTMLCenter. Below is an interview discussing the business side of IntenseDebate with co-founder Jon Fox.
Allen: Can we start with a brief bio?
Jon Fox: I’m 23 years old and originally from Illinois. I have a BS in Math and Computer Science from Illinois College and am about 3 classes away from a Masters in Computer Science from Washington University in St. Louis. I started programming when I was 10 years old and have loved it ever since. I’m also that guy that was obsessed with stories of great entrepreneurs growing up and completely fascinated by the web startup scene in particular.
Allen: How do you describe the Intense Debate service?
Jon: IntenseDebate is a replacement to your stock comment system on blogs and websites. We provide a tool to better facilitate community and interaction by adding loads of new features. Some of my favorites include Reply-by-email (reply to a comment by replying in email to the email notification), threading, voting, universal profiles, reputation, and the ability to track a user and/or topic across blogs.
Allen: Why did you decide to start Intense Debate?
Jon: IntenseDebate was originally started as a 1-on-1 debate site. Users would pair up, make 5 statements each, and then the rest of the community could vote on a winner (as well as comment on the debate). We realized, however, that there were already debates and other great discussions happening all over the web, but the tools were completely inadequate (and hadn’t really ever changed). We ended up moving to put our emphasis on this problem instead, and the IntenseDebate you now know was born.
Allen: What’s the team look like?
Jon: We’re a team of 6 at the moment.
- CEO – Tom Keller
- Graphics/Design – Isaac Keyet
- Voice of the users – Michael Koenig
- Software Engineer – Austin Hallock
- Software Engineer – Mehmet Alkanlar And of course myself, CTO
Allen: What’s your selling pitch for why I should switch my commenting platform to ID?
Jon: We provide a system to help facilitate community and improve interactions among visitors. Many of our users have told us they’ve noticed an increase in both pageviews and the number of comments after installing us. Our enhanced comment system allows the visitors to be more engaged and have a better experience when getting involved in the discussion that the site generates. More and more it’s the comments and discussion around the original content that is becoming important, valuable, and meaningful. We just provide tools to make that experience better for both the publisher and the visitors.
Allen: What’s your take on the SEO issue with regards to using a service like ID?
Jon: This issue is really important to some of our users, and as such it’s an issue we’ll be addressing shortly.
Allen: Why should I trust ID with my data, my users, etc. Can I grab my data anytime I want?
Jon: We get this question a lot, and there’s a couple points to make here. The majority of our users already trust 3rd parties with the data around their blog (posts, users, and even comments). We work very hard to ensure your data is safe. Comments are our life. The truth is we offer more protection than most of our users who store copies of the data themselves.
All that aside, however, we do understand that many users want to have that data in their own hands. As a result, we do offer the ability to export your comments at any time.
Allen: How do you compare ID to other commenting services like those offered by JS-Kit and Disqus?
Jon: There are obviously many similarities. I’m not familiar enough to give a feature by feature comparison, but I know many of our users have told us they like our design/ui and our data migration features more than that of our competitors.
Allen: Can you explain your business model?
Jon: We’re still very young and primarily focused on distribution at the moment. We’re looking into several revenue possibilities including white labeling and opt-in ad revenue shares for the future.
Allen: Do you find that being located outside of the Valley is an advantage, a disadvantage or neither?
Jon: I think at different times it is one or the other. For example, we do find ourselves visiting the Valley to discuss partnerships and other opportunities with other companies in that area. Obviously this would be a lot simpler if we were in the Valley instead. However, the community here in Boulder has been great. People here really want to help each other and it has a very different feel to it than what I’ve experienced in the Valley. In this sense I think it’s been a real advantage for us to be here.
Allen: What’s coming next from Intense Debate?
Jon: We’ve got a lot of exciting stuff coming up in the next month or two. Most of these enhancements will revolve around data migration and getting better integrated into the blogging platforms to make the experience for our publishers as easy and seamless as possible.
Allen: What tips do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Jon: I would say two things. First, find yourself a mentor, or at least a friend in the business that can help to get you hooked in. If you don’t know anybody yet, reach out to a handful. My experience is that these people are generally more than willing to help, and happy to bring someone new into the mix.
Second, don’t be afraid to just dive in. I realize not everyone can do this, but it’s really hard to go half way into the startup lifestyle. Recruiting a team, raising money, building a product, etc all require lots of time and effort and you really can’t do it only on the weekend. It’s a bit scary at first, but once you get in it’s tough to believe you’ve lived any other way.