Will Dots Make Journalism Change its Spots?

September 21st, 2009 |

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Journalist. Rogue cynic. Type Atypical personality. Don't hate - that's MY job. Follow my musings on Twitter @laurenthedark

So, there I was, sending a message on MySpace (please quell your laughter) to a friend. I was ready to send it off, hoping that the user would check his account before the end of 2009 when, lo, a small icon labeled DotSpots popped onto the screen suggesting that I create a “Dot” of the message content. Earlier in the week I’d downloaded the program (currently available in beta version via the FireFox browser), wondering if this was the fourth coming of the ancient Project Xanadu. To test my theory and out of sheer curiosity, I figured that it was time to take the Dots for a test drive.

DotSpots, under the wing of co-founder Farhad Mohit, formerly of BizRate and Shopzilla.com, was first launched at the TechCrunch50 in 2008 to rave reviews. The Dots of DotSpots are annotation devices that can be distributed to equivalent copies of semantically similar text on the web. In many tech and social media forums, the format has drawn comparisons to Snipd and Diigo, both services in which the public can link and annotate existing subject matter on the web, but lack semantic matching capabilities. Mohit strongly believes that the purpose of journalism should be to frame issues, investigate issues from all sides, and to provide eye-witness accounts in investigative reporting. Unlike the aforementioned services, Mohit and company intend to enrich news media content by getting a few thousand high quality citizen journalists, bloggers, and activists into the fold as early adopters. This will allow them to enhance formidable news sources using Dots, causing mainstream media outlets to address those three areas. When this occurs, the DotSpots team will approach news publishers with a server side solution to turn DotSpots on for everyone, without the need for the plug-in which is now required to use the service.

As well intended and useful as the program may be, DotSpots is not without its challenges. On Friday, attorneys filed suit against Scribd, a document-sharing service, on charges that it’s broken barriers to copyright infringement worldwide. This accusation is eerily familiar, hearkening back to the old days, and ultimate demise, of DotSpots’ doppelganger Third Voice. When Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation implements a payment system to access their online content, the Dot that links to the information hidden behind the News Corporation firewall will only be available for viewing by those who choose to pay up. Finally, Google Wave, the long awaited gargantuan application and probable Facebook opponent, is preparing for its initial debut in a matter of weeks.

In defense of DotSpots, the company plans to work with publishers of large media sites, in what Mohit hopes to be a partnership that increases the readership of free, advertisement-based, investigative news content, while simultaneously creating a larger user base for DotSpots. DotSpots also plans to launch applications in existing programs such as DotSpots in WordPress in the future. As for Google Wave, Mohit believes the application as it currently exists is too complex for mass adoption. He notes that, as it has in demonstrations, a Wave can be embedded within a Dot so that the content of the Wave can be indexed to the appropriate equivalent text. In fact, any flash embedded program can support Dots, including MP3’s and other music files.

DotSpots will not be following Twitter down the information gossip highway over how the company will ultimately bring home the bacon. Mohit is personally funding the project from the 562 million dollar sale of Bizrate and Shopzilla. He sees no problem in the future of getting advertisers onboard, noting that the service can judge what topics are most highly ranked from where Dots are placed within the context of the larger article. The company itself is also able save money by being fully distributed with no central office, one of the greenest and most flexible solutions for the new workplace environment.

The official logo for the program can be found on the DotSpots About page http://dotspots.com/about/. The peace sign as depicted by a collection of Dots was designed by Mohit’s brother-in-law and represents the inter connectivity of news content to support the larger picture.

The Dots all appear to be paving a path in the right direction. I’m still waiting for more of my associates to download the program so that I can better gauge its usefulness as it pertains to my personal information gathering needs. As far as the project as a whole, the users of new media and the old guard of news media will have to work collectively to make the program, and the feedback it collects, useful. This could be a big step for the future of journalism as long as we can agree on one truth.

There are no Dots in “I”.

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Lauren Cannon