Bo.lt makes any web page a social object

In my line of work, I share a lot of URLs with people, and often I want to engage in a discussion about those pages with the people I share them with. Sometimes I am sharing a web page with one or a few specific people known to me, like discussing the features of a product with the product’s developers, for example. In that use case, I might share the URL or a screenshot of the webpage using something like Dispatch.io, the tool I recently reviewed (see Dispatch is a social layer for file-based collaboration), which provides a straightforward way to discuss things like files (or images in files), web pages, or ideas embedded in text.
However, there is a more open use case, where I might want to share URLs on a more general basis over time with a larger group of people, like I do on Twitter. But unlike Twitter, what I want is to have the commentary about what’s on the page to be associated with the page, and not in the Twitter stream. For example, I might be a marketing manager within a mid-sized product company, and I want to distribute URLs pointing to interesting web pages out to the marketing and development teams, and I might start want to have conversations about why I think these pages are interesting. And, while the company I work for is pretty smart, we don’t have a company-wide work media platform: groups basically decide for themselves what to use to get projects done.
Enter Bo.lt, a new collaborative sharing tool. Now, let me preface this piece by saying that Bo.lt seems a bit rough around the edge, so I am not recommending that readers immediately go and sign up. Consider it more as an experimental example of collaborative sharing, one that might grow into a production grade tool in the future.
Bo.lt’s model is this: a user, who has signed up and copied a bookmarklet into their browser, decides to share a web page, and ‘bolts it’  by clicking the bookmarklet. This pops a window where the user can add various metadata, and optionally choose to place the bolt in a named collection (in the case below, you can see tags added in the description, and the collection is ‘culture’).

After a bolt is created, a share dialog opens, providing various ways to distribute this public bolt, which has a newly created URL. Bo.lt currently supports Twitter, Facebook, email, and several other services. In a way Bo.lt is something like Stumbleupon, in how it works, creating a bolt URL that is what gets shared to others. Note that bolts can also be private, but I haven’t explored that. In my use I have only distributed by email and Twitter, but these bolt-generated URLs could be distributed through any communication medium. Let’s imagine that, as the marketing manager, all I have to go with is email, instant messaging, and a vague idea of which people might be interested in what topics. So I send that bolt-created link along to a half a dozen folks, some by email, some by IM, and when they click they are brought to a page like this (although I have shifted to a more business-oriented page, and dropped Sean Young and Blade Runner). The URL is http://stoweboyd.bo.lt/espi if you want to go look at it (it’s an interesting post, by the way).

At the top of the shared page is information about the bolt — who created it, my initial comment, etc — and among other things a button that  says ‘show comments’. If that is clicked a comments area opens.

A casual participant might just look at the page and read the comments, but someone interested in making a comment has to have an account already or create one. Then, they can add their thoughts.
From my viewpoint this user experience has a number of things going for it:

  • The participants don’t have to share the same communication medium: those that got the URL through email will see the same comments as someone who came via IM.
  • The comments aren’t buried (lost) in email or IM (or Twitter, for that matter): they persist on the page, and can easily be retrieved.

Bo.lt also implements its own open following model, much like that of Twitter: once the folks in the company have signed up to Bo.lt, they can opt to follow that marketing manager’s stream. But, unlike Twitter, Bo.lt also allows users to follow other people’s collections, too. The example above is in my ‘social business’ collection, so a follower of mine might opt to just follow my social business bolts, and avoid the ones about movies or food. And so, after a while, our marketing manager’s organization might slowly ramp up to the use of a social tool specifically around this sort of sharing: making web pages social objects, festooned with social metadata.
Again, Bo.lt does not seem ready for prime time use, but is based on a quite promising model. For example, it wants an image for every page being shared, and one option is to do a grab of the webpage, and that feature is currently broken. There are other minor but annoying bugs, too. I will update if and when it matures sufficiently for production use.