There are a multitude of apps and services that let you bookmark articles for reading later, just like there are plenty of apps that give you a clean, readable version of any article you give it. And don’t get me started on apps that let you share your content through a social network. Do you really need another timeline?
But how about a service that pulls all of these features together, making it much easier to clean up your articles, store them for later, annotate them and share them when you are done reading them? Yes, it exists, it’s called dotdotdot and it’s available for the iPad! Want to check it out?
What’s It About?
While describing dotdotdot is no easy task, perhaps the closest comparison I could make is that it is some sort of “read it later” service mixed in with some Kindle functionality and some extra social integration. On the surface, it’s about pulling together different articles from the web and giving you a single place to read them all whenever you’d like. That’s where the “read it later” comparisons come in.
However, dotdotdot does much more than that. It lets you import eBooks from a multitude of places, it lets you highlight and annotate your content regardless of its kind, and it lets you share those notes in its own social network-like service.
Pulling the Content
The gist of apps like Pocket, Instapaper and Readability is to save your articles for later and then give you a clean, distraction and ad-free place to read your online content. dotdotdot has a bit of that: you can add articles right from your computer’s browser with an extension, or you can copy the hyperlink of the article directly to the iPad app.
dotdotdot’s iPad app also integrates seamlessly with your Twitter timeline and your Dropbox accounts, letting you access content from either of these services in a drop dead simple manner. The Dropbox integration will give you direct access to all of the files under your account and highlight the ones that can be imported (.html and .ePub, for example). The Twitter integration, on the other hand, will pull up a modified timeline, only showing the tweets that contain links to readable articles.
But that’s not all. The app also integrates with Project Gutenberg and other similar sites where you can get free ePubs directly into the app. There’s also a feature called “Curated Lists”, each of which include tons of content relative to a single topic. As you can see, there’s plenty of ways to get content into dotdotdot, unlike similar apps that just give you the option to add content through your browser.
Once you have your articles imported in the service, reading them is a breeze, although nothing out of this world for anyone who has used similar apps before. Your articles will be shown in a clean white backdrop and text will be broken into swipeable pages, much like iBooks. There are a few options for changing the brightness of the screen, browsing all available pages at once and sharing the article (but only via email).
If there’s any phrase, link or word that you’d like to keep for later, dotdotdot supports a few options for that, and accessing them is as simple as selecting your text and choosing whether you’d like to share it, tag it, append a comment to it or simply leave it as a highlight. We’ll get to how these all come together later.
I have to say, the parser that dotdotdot uses does a pretty good job at cleaning up the article without making it unreadable, and it doesn’t have problems loading images inline along with their captions, unlike other similar services that sometimes remove anything that isn’t text.
The Social Aspect
What separates dotdotdot from the rest of the “read it later” services is that it includes a social networking aspect to it, where you can keep up with what everyone else using the service is reading. Ideally, you will want to follow people that you are interested in so that the content shown to you in the dashboard is something that would interest you, but there’s also the option to view a global timeline which shows the activity of every single user of the service.
Under your personal timeline, updates are shown on what the people you are following have recently done. Whether they’ve just read something or they’ve highlighted a piece, any kind of activity is picked up and broadcasted over, and you can choose to import and read their articles. This makes reading something of a social experience, as any comments or highlights done by the people you are following will be shown highlighted in blue. However, there is no other way to interact or comment on the activities of others.
The “Memory” section of the app is basically an archive where all of your highlights, comments and tags are saved. The developers of the app describe it pretty well and mark their intentions with this feature as having a collection of all the knowledge you’ve gathered out there on the web. Wouldn’t it be cool to keep all the quotes and content that you’ve found interesting in the web, books and elsewhere in one single place, where they’ll always be organized and readily available?
That’s what dotdotdot tries to achieve with this feature, and for the most part, it shows a lot of potential. If you take the time to tag all of your comments and highlights, you’ll end up with a easily browseable and neatly organized collection of all the content you’ve liked throughout the web; and if you also use dotdotdot to read all your books, it will as well work as a summary card for your book notes.
One aspect where dotdotdot falls short is on the compatibility across devices. While all competitors have apps for most popular devices; dotdotdot just has a web app and iOS complimentary apps. Today we’ve focused on the iPad companion of the service, but as many of you will agree, it’s crucial for this type of services to be available in all places, including Android phones and desktop clients.
As a service, dotdotdot gets it right in a lot of aspects, and it presents a unique and very cool concept for providing a places to read articles, storing quotes and notes, and bringing all of these features together into a social environment. It’s certainly a promising idea, but it has yet to be broken into the mainstream where it can show its true potential.
As for the iPad app, it definitely does justice to the service but it is noticeably in a beta stage. The lack of promised RSS integration, a landscape mode for browsing the app, and a few present bugs show that the app still has some ways to go before it can compete with its many rivals. But what do you think? Will this kind of service be the future for online content consumption? What is it lacking? Let us know in the comments below!