BackType Connect – Good… Too Good?

Over the last couple of years, it’s become harder and harder to track conversations about your site online. Tools like Google Blogsearch and Google Alerts are great for tracking links from other blogs, but as micro-blogging tools like Twitter, Jaiku, FriendFeed, Tumblr and their like emerged people started to post links in ways that are a little harder to track.

URL-shortening services, in particular, increased the difficulty of finding people linking to your content. What’s more, while you might see those alerts, other members of your community didn’t so potentially useful additions to your conversation were lost.

As people started to notice this trend, services began to spring-up to find and aggregate these conversations on your site. For several months I used Chat Catcher, developed by Shannon Whitley. Unfortunately, as Twitter’s popularity sky-rocketed earlier this year, Chat Catcher became harderto maintain and Whitley announced recently that it would cease functioning shortly (update: last night Whitley announced that Chat Catcher would NOT be shutting down after all, due to the supportive messages he received). At that point I began looking around for an alternative solution.

Enter BackType Connect

I’ve been a fan of BackType since it launched a little while back. BackType initially served as a comment search tool, letting you search the comments on blogs (often where the highly valuable debate occurred) in a way that other search engines didn’t. I clearly wasn’t the only one, as the good folks at Radian6 incorporated BackType’s search into their product not too long ago.

BackType recently launched BackType Connect, a service that lets you view the conversations around a particular post including comments on other blogs, tweets, FriendFeed, Digg and Reddit comments and more. At around the same time, they released a WordPress plugin that does the same thing on your own site.

It works… too well?

BackType Connect does an excellent job of finding and aggregating conversations around your posts. In fact, if you enable all of its functions, it almost works too well. When I first enabled the plugin, I left all of the features enabled and found myself faced with a deluge of new comments from other blogs, retweets from Twitter and more.

While it may be useful to know about comments on other blogs which link to your posts, I found the usefulness of including them on my site to be limited (and worried that the commenters might be irritated to see their thoughts posted on my site instead of the original post) so I quickly turned-off that feature.

Also, since installing BackType Connect, I’ve noticed a big drop-off in comments on my site. I’m not entirely sure of the reason, but suspect that it may be because Twitter comments via the plugin can quite easily overwhelm the comments section of the post, especially if a lot of people tweet about what you write.  BackType Connect will only post other conversations as comments on your posts, not as trackbacks (although you can group them all at the end of your comments rather than chronolocially integrated) – that option would be a nice addition in the future. 

Chris Golda and Mike Montano from BackType both suggested that I disable the Twitter functionality, so we’ll see what happens from here (the plugin still identifies tweets and provides a link to them; it just no longer posts them on my site).

I’m not sure about this one, but I suspect that if you uninstall BackType Connect you may lose the comments that have been posted via it. When I disabled the Twitter function, all of those comments disappeared from my site immediately. Something to think about if you ever consider deleting the plugin.

Bottom line: BackType Connect is a great plugin for seeing what other people are saying about your posts away from your own site. Be careful when deciding whether to enable all of its features though – while you may see everything other people are saying about you, you may drive away the conversation on your own site.

Regardless of the small number of issues, this is still a useful plugin. It’s easy to install, easy to set-up and easy to use once you have it there. Worth a try if you run a WordPress site.

Have you tried BackType Connect or similar plugins? Do you find them useful? Which service have you found to be the best?

  • Dave, thanks so much for the great feedback. Exactly the kind of thing we’re looking for so we can make the next version better.

    I actually feel very much the same way about which sources you enable. In fact that’s why we defaulted RTs and comments from other blogs as off. In many cases those comments add noise. We’ll be improving the filters in the next release for sure. For example many users have asked to be able to filter out their own tweets, or tweets that contain the post title. If you or your readers have any more ideas of what you’d like to filter we’d love to hear them.

  • Interesting review, Dave. Like you, I also was an early adopter of Shannon’s Chat Catcher script–then plugin. When I heard the tool was closing shop, Shannon told me about Backtype Connect so I installed it. I kept all the features enabled. I’ve seen an increase in comments, though, having nothing to do with the plugin. Maybe I’m the exception.

    I am concerned about everything ending if I remove the plugin. I get it, but shouldn’t a blog author have a choice to keep them? Maybe for a future upgrade?

    I also don’t like that my own tweets to promote my own posts are added as comments. Chat Catcher allowed a way to opt out of that; and the Backtype developers say that’s planned for a future upgrade.