Userplane Offers Bloggers Ad-Supported Feedback Tool

Userplane, which provides networking software for the likes of MySpace and Friendster, on Monday began offering its live "chat" application free to anyone with a Web site and a vocal fan base.

So, while large players will still have to shell out for Userplane's software, individual bloggers and amateur Web hosts can now download the "Webchat Instant-Install" as long they're willing to accept Userplane's ad network along with it.

Unlike Java- and HTML-based chat applications, Userplane's Flash-based audio/video-enabled Webchat is compatible with all but the most obscure operating systems. And like similar Userplane applications, Webchat is offered as a one-line script that can be pasted onto any Web page in seconds, according to Michael Jones, co-founder and CEO of Userplane.

Jones said the ad-supported real-time chat rooms are a natural outgrowth of blogging and the like--which some might find ironic, given that blogs are thought to have evolved from chat rooms. But there's a huge demand, he said, by both users eager to build upon their current offerings, and advertisers ready to improve the quality of their ads popping up throughout the blogosphere. Userplane's technology allows for streaming video and rich media advertising.

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The software lets advertisers target their audiences based on user profiles and demographics. And beyond keyword-targeted site advertising, Userplane's ad network is able to organize Free Webchat orders into a series of more than two dozen categories, from automotive and careers to health, news, shopping, and sports, according to Jones.

The product has been available on Userplane's Web site for several weeks--and, Jones said, about 1,000 people have discovered and downloaded it.

But first impressions from industry stalwarts were mixed on Monday.

Steve Rubel, CooperKatz executive and blog evangelist, said he didn't see the need, and was initially turned off by the fact that he wouldn't be able to "capture" the traffic related to the chat, meaning that the activity in the chat room wouldn't be reflected on bloggers' all-important daily traffic numbers. "I thought that we evolved beyond chat rooms," Rubel joked.

Gary Stein, Jupiter Research analyst and blogger, thought the idea was "cool," and said he believes "people are still totally into chat rrooms." Stein, however, said the fact that the application has to be downloaded--as opposed to hosting the tool itself--would most likely significantly slow adoption. "If I wanted to do it, I'd have to go talk to my IT guys first, and plus people are so afraid of adware and things such as that, well, who wants ad-related software on their computers?" asked Stein.

Henry Copeland, founder of the blog-ad serving network BlogAds, considered the development healthy for the "folk publishing" space, but didn't think many bloggers would show interest. "How many bloggers even allow comments?" said Copeland, in reference to the fact that many overwhelmed bloggers don't accept comments from readers because they don't have the time. "You'll get a certain set of users that will adopt it, but it takes a lot of ingredients to really make a splash," he continued.

Copeland said he wasn't at all threatened by the advertisers that will be piggybacking on the application. "No one is really cannibalizing anyone else at this point, because ad dollars are just flowing in and the pie is just so big and diverse, everyone who has anything worthwhile can carve out their little piece," he said.

Search expert and blogger John Battelle coolly endorsed the idea. But he was a touch uncomfortable about not having any control over the advertisers impressing upon his readers, and said if there was revenue being generated, Userplane should share it with everybody.

Jones said revenue sharing is something he's seriously considering, and that there will be a number of ways for site hosts to profit from the product in the future. "Monetization through advertising allows us to offer our product to anyone--and through the integration of a micro-payment system, we will soon be providing revenue-sharing opportunities to all our clients," said Jones. "A strong desire from advertisers wanting ever more to reach these flourishing niche-targeted communities will drive cooperation, and hopefully our success."

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