SAN FRANCISCO-I just finished roaming the Demo Pit here at TechCrunch50 at the San Francisco Design Center Concourse.
My impression of all these new Web 2.0 technologies is that a lot of these products would be fantastic as part of a larger portfolio in the arms of a Google, Yahoo, MySpace or Facebook. Pick your Internet company.
One company that stood out to me was DotSpots, which provides a universal annotation system that lets consumers annotate news articles and other text content with videos from YouTube or photos from Flickr and links.
The software then uses semantic matching technology to distribute each contribution to every instance of that meme across the Web.
DotSpots co-founder Farhad Mohit, who made his bones as the founder of first BizRate.com and then Shopzilla, showed me a cool demo involving a syndicated Associated Press story on Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
The thing about wire news services, Mohit argued, is that they try to distribute content to as many news outlets as they can to make money. But readers are stuck with a one-dimensional view of the reporting.
“Mainstream news is not evil,” Mohit said. “What they are is they’re lacking resources to cover all the stories that matter in the ever-shrinking global landscape. The depth is coming from the blogs.”
With DotSpots, YouTube contributors, bloggers or just plain citizen journalists can add comments, videos, photos or other content to news stories to offer a more rounded view of an event.
In a model Mohit describes as “Annotate locally, distribute globally,” this user-generated content then gets pushed out to all of the similar pieces of content on the Web so the whole world, or at least anyone who comes across the content, can see it. The content shows up as a little annotation tag wherever the poster decides to put it in a story.
Googles Marissa Mayer Thinks DotSpots Is Beautiful
Mohit said individual users can download a Firefox plug-in to begin using DotSpots. Publishers can integrate the technology into their sites for their readers to use. So, why would publishers want this?
On most sites, content appears on the left and ads powered by Google or another company appear on the right. DotSpots takes all the user-generated comments and streams them down the right side of the page, effectively sandwiching the ads between the content and the comments. As most readers read left to right, their eyes should stumble upon the ads.
“Your eyes are going to be near the ads all of the time,” Mohit said. Publishers win.
DotSpots is free for now, as Mohit said gaining some traction is most important. When DotSpots gets ubiquitous, the company will encourage publishers to publish “commercial dots,” attaching ads from their advertisers to DotSpots’ free annotation-enabling code snippet. Publishers make money, advertisers make money and DotSpots takes its cut in the middle, Mohit said.
DotSpots is taking invites for the beta but it is still six weeks or so from launching the beta because the team is still working out the user interface.
I wasn’t the only one who appreciated DotSpots; it won rave reviews from a panel of judges after Mohit presented it here Sept. 8. One of those judges was Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience at Google.
Mayer, whose many responsibilities include overseeing Google News, which happens to aggregate the type of online news content Mohit is targeting, said the idea is a great way to uniformly display user-generated comments so that they’re not always sitting at the bottom of the page. Mayer said:
“When you look at ratings, reviews, reviews that are done differently on every single site … I think people do want a general tool. It’s a really ambitious undertaking but it’s something that could change the way the Web works and change the way Web sites get built … It’s a really beautiful idea and I really like anything that pushes the Web forward in that way.“
So, is DotSpots the type of company that will make it on its own? I don’t believe so, but not because it’s not strong. It’s a great idea, but by adding Web 2.0 flavor to traditional mainstream journalism and globalizing it, it demands the proper scale.
I’m talking about the kind of scale that a Google, Yahoo or Microsoft could provide DotSpots, which could be a fantastic crowdsourcing feature on top of major search engines.
Again, this is another product that feels more like a feature than a new business model, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Like Mayer, I’m all for whatever makes the Web more social, vibrant and useful.