I saw yesterday about Disqus releasing a tool to show trending discussions in comments.
Now comments have been both the blessing and the bane of the news industry as it goes through the upheaval of functional displacement, trying to deal with new modes of reading/viewing/participating. News organizations want to have readers participate, because it builds brand loyalty and can sometimes help provide leads and sources. But when comments devolve into ideological camps attacking each other (which usually happens), it can be a nightmare.
Disquis is pitching gravity as a way to find conversations to join. Basically, you want to join conversations on thing people care about.
As a mass comm researcher, I think it would be interesting to see how the popularity of a topic relates to the content of the comments. Do people participate more to discuss intelligently or to cast stones?
Gravity also groups the popularity bubbles by topic – news is just one of these. Content marketers could easily monitor what kinds of topics in their domains attract a big audience. Of course, they could always do this, but the up-to-the minute data visualization could spark some ideas that spreadsheets do not.