Publisher engagement startup Insticator bets on commenting with Squawk-It acquisition

Anthony Ha

Insticator, a startup helping publishers add to their content elements like polls, quizzes and suggested story widgets, has made its first acquisition — a commenting platform called Squawk-It.

Insticator CEO Zack Dugow said his platform benefits online publishers by keeping audiences engaged and bringing in new ad revenue (which is split between Insticator and the publisher). And he sees commenting as a natural next step toward his goal to become "the main monetization and community engagement solution for publishers."

While "don't read the comments" remains one of the most reliable pieces of advice you'll get online, Dugow said Squawk-It (it was formerly known as Solid Opinion) stands out from other commenting platforms because of its reliance on "100 percent human moderation," with moderators working in three shifts to monitor partner sites 24 hours each day.

"Anybody can game an algorithm," he said.

And when I brought up the concern that so much of the discussion has moved out of the comments section and onto social media, Dugow responded that "merging social commenting" so that it feels like everything is part of the same conversation is "in our roadmap."

Like other Insticator products, Squawk-It comments (which you can see below the article here) are monetized through advertising. But Dugow noted that the ads run above the comments, rather than interrupting or distracting from the comments themselves.

The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. Dugow said the entire 13-person Squawk-It team (headquartered in New York but with an engineering team in Kiev) has joined Insticator, and that the product has already been rebranded as Insticator Comments.

Insticator raises $5.2M to help publishers make their stories more interactive