An App That Turns Digital Reading Into A Social Activity

Dotdotdot imagines its users as one big book discussion group, with everyone wielding the same highlighter.

Instapaper and Readability have both found success offering a simple, core interaction: save an article online to read somewhere else later. With both you can also follow what friends are reading and share articles from your own queue, but their core value is to strip away all the superfluous ads, Facebook share buttons, and other distractions that come between you and a nice, relaxing longform read.


That’s not at all what Dotdotdot, a new reading app for iOS and web, is going for. Rather than duplicate the good old book-reading experience on a screen, it’s bringing all of the connectivity of social sharing to every type of digital reading–e-books, texts saved from the web, whatever. While that sounds like it could be a complicated experience, the scheme actually works well. Here’s how Dotdotdot pulls it all off:

Adding A Long Tail To Familiar UI Tropes

If Dotdotdot has one killer function, it’s the highlighter. Not a new tool, to be sure. But having a single, familiar interaction to ground the app’s entire experience comes in handy. Your highlights, and their attached comments, can be pooled with those made by your friends, which together form a beautiful, chapter-esque view of a document. You can even turn the highlights into inspirational, pullquote-style pages to share (all the citations are automatic) on Facebook or Twitter. The brilliance is that all of this indexing and sharing happens through the same channel–a simple highlight.

Hiding Robust Processing Behind Simple Gestures


Of course there’s a lot of under-the-hood processing going on to make this highlighter magic possible. For instance, the app uses a text-scanning “fingerprinting” technology that can recognize if two people have uploaded the same book to their Dotdotdot libraries, even if they’re totally different files that aren’t formatted uniformly. So as two friends stumble upon the same book and highlight away, the service will spot they’re reading the same book and seamlessly share their reactions with one another. When a third friend picks up the book, they’ll join in, too. The backend archives it all–your highlights and comments–while you just read as you always would.

Leveraging Social Media That Doesn’t Need To Be Real Time

And that brings us to what’s maybe the greatest promise of Dotdotdot. Sure, there’s a feed with content your friends are reading, but the app enables a very robust social-networking experience that doesn’t rely on real time to be relevant. On Dotdotdot, you’re reading within a very relevant archive of thought. Maybe someone just posted a comment on the passage you’re reading. Maybe they posted it 10 months ago. No matter. As Co-Founder Thomas Weyres puts it, “Texts expand from a static medium to a ‘platform of knowledge’ that’s constantly growing.”

Dotdotdot is currently free to download. The company does plan to monetize the platform, but is remaining tight-lipped as to how that will work.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.