Earlier this month, the Online News Association sponsored an event at Facebook headquarters which shed light on a truly unmet need.

At the event, NPR senior strategist Andy Carvin talked about the 1.4 million fans who choose to comment and share stories on NPR’s Facebook page rather than on NPR’s own site (yup, 1.4 million!). When asked whether NPR was reluctant to divert reader engagement from its own site, he replied “We have better comments on Facebook than our own site…Readers still see our site as mainly dedicated to consuming news. Facebook, on the other hand, is a web venue in which people are used to chatting with their family and friends.” Carvin later talked about how conversations on NPR’s Facebook  page can become surprisingly intimate. “That didn’t happen on our site,” he said. (See full article here: http://www.niemanlab.org/2011/01/nprs-facebook-page-a-multi-million-pageview-machine/)

A Facebook page is not the ideal place to have conversations about news stories, but there are several good reasons why NPR’s readers prefer to comment on Facebook. What are those reasons?

1) You are talking to a person. A person with a face. A person with a name (a real name). A person with an identity.

And not only are you talking to a person, YOU are a person too. Now when you say something smart, you can feel good about it. Why let the recognition go to JellyNugget345 when it can go to you?

2) You can create and name your own conversation, or join one that interests you. You are not forced to put your comment at the bottom of a long linear comment stream (where most of the comments are not even related to each other!). Instead of joining a one-way shouting fest, you can actually communicate with people who want to listen. You can have a conversation. And with people who are actually interested in the topic you want to discuss (because you all either joined that topic or chose to create it).

3) You can develop a relationship with someone you are having a conversation with. Humans want to connect. Actually, they need to connect. Just as we need food and water, we need to socialize (actually, maybe a bit less than we need food and water– but we do need to socialize). On Facebook, NPR’s readers can socialize with the people they’re conversing with (i.e. learn more about them by seeing their profiles, request to be their friend, send them a private message, and maybe even poke them). On Facebook, commenters can socialize. On NPR’s comment pages, they cannot.

Clearly Facebook is a much better place to have a conversation than NPR’s website. But Facebook is not ideal (click here to see why: http://www.facebook.com/NPR?v=app_2373072738).

This is where Voci.us comes in. We have a long way to go before we figure out the definition of ideal (that will depend on what we learn from our users), but figuring out that definition is our mission.

Take a look at the 2 attached documents. One is an example of what a user’s profile on Voci.us might look like. The other is an example of what the comments page of a particular news story might look like (you would get to the comments page by clicking on the link below the article on the news site). Notice that you are not forced to put your comment on the bottom of a linear shouting fest. You can search for a subtopic that interests you, or you can create your own subtopic. And you can invite friends into your conversation. And what if you want to have a conversation with just a few of your friends? or just a few of your coworkers? No problem. Create a bubble (a conversation). Say you want it to be private. And invite those friends to enter the bubble.

What if you want to feel good about saying something smart? Or what if you want people to know they should listen to you? That’s what the Insight Points are for. Say something smart, and others can say if they think your comments are insightful.

What if you read an awesome article and you want to bookmark it. Not just for yourself, but for anyone else who might be interested in the articles you think are awesome. You can do that with Voci.us. You click on the “Bookmark” button on the comments page, and it automatically appears on your profile for you and your friends to see.

What if you like someone’s comments and want to know what he/she will say tomorrow? Or what if you’re just curious to know what news stories they will decide to comment on, or bookmark? You can follow them. And you can be followed.

NPR and Facebook are great, but they each have their limitations. Due to these limitations, there is an unmet need that we plan to capitalize on.