Email is a hassle no matter which way you look at it but at least most people only have one inbox to worry about and they can handle pretty much everything from the one console. But if you’re trying to keep up with comments and other social input from blogs and Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn, not to mention other social sites you use of which there are more than you may think, it can be pretty overwhelming. That’s the issue a startup called Engagio is trying to get rid of: the company’s “social dashboard” service, which has been in private beta for several months, launches officially today, backed by seed-funding from Union Square Ventures partner Fred Wilson and a number of other brave investors.
An interesting fact about Engagio is that the service probably wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for blog comments — specifically, the comments section on Fred Wilson’s blog, where the Union Square partner spends most of his time responding to questions and interacting with his readers, many of whom are startup founders or venture investors looking for consultations. Engagio creator and CEO William Mougayar is one of Wilson’s regular comment providers, and the service was born last fall after a discussion about the difficulty of keeping track of comments across a vast board of multiple blogs and other social services like Facebook.
“The idea came out of me participating on Fred’s blog and other blogs, and how the experience was very fragmented — I had to go to multiple places to check for replies, and I wanted to be able to track that kind of thing so I could see who I was interacting with,” Mougayar stated in an interview before the Engagio’s launch. The founder, who at the time was involved in another startup called Eqentia, said that Wilson suggested he should do something about it. “He said to make it like Gmail, but socially-oriented,” Mougayar recalls. “A social inbox.”
Eight weeks after the idea popped up, the startup had a product ready to be tested and Wilson announced the beta on his blog in December of 2011. The service went from 20 to 3,000 users before the launch, which was a huge deal as the beta was kept quite secret. It had also raised about $540,000 in initial funding to help prep the company for the next level of business — which includes adding servers and staff, but also adding support for even more social services. In addition to Wilson and Rho Canada, the initial funding came from venture funds such as Extreme Venture Partners and Bullpen Ventures, as well as individual angels including Mike Yavonditte, the CEO of New York-based startup Hashable.
Engagio provides a system which allows users to connect to their accounts from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Tumblr, as well as Google , the Disqus blog-commenting service (which Union Square Ventures is an investor in) and other services such as Foursquare, as well as web forums, including Hacker News to a single inbox-like UI. Engagio as per its function that made it famous: pulls in any comments, replies, messages and other updates and displays them in a single inbox — and gives users the ability post any responses back to those services, from the inbox, as well. Mougayar said the company is planning to add support for other social services, including the Q&A site Quora and forums run by StackExchange.
While there has been a lot of backlash recently about blog comments and what some see as a lack of value in them — with some bloggers and sites defending their decision to turn off comments altogether — Mougayar said he believes that commenting, when done optimally, is “probably the most significant social gesture you can make today, more valuable than sharing or liking or linking.”
Relationships which develop with bloggers and even inter-commenter relationships can be very valuable, the Engagio founder has stated, and his affiliation with Wilson is a perfect example of this explanation.
During the beta, I have played around with Engagio quite a bit and I can say that it would definitely be useful to see everything I do in the social realm of the internet in one place and it would definitely be better to have them bunched together in an organized way, instead of getting email notifications from Twitter and Facebook in my regular inbox. The only thing I’m concerned about is that Engagio’s inbox could become just as overwhelming as my traditional email, but that could be because I belong to so many different social platforms — and the service does allow users to mute specific contacts or hide services if they get in the way and start to overwhelm them.