Here we go again. A new company, Reframe It, is launching its Web markup product on Wednesday. Like ThirdVoice and before it, Reframe It lets you highlight a piece of a Web page, comment on it, and discuss those comments with other visitors to the site.
I found using the service a good community experience, although I believe the concept is dated. For one, nearly all sites now have their own communities and discussion threads, and adding another discussion system could actually splinter a community instead of drawing it together. Furthermore, Reframe It currently works primarily through a browser plug-in (on Firefox and Internet Explorer). Betting on software to carry community is a long shot.
The company, though, is actually oriented around making that software dependency into a strength. CEO Bobby Fishkin wrote to me, "Within mass communities we can let members discuss the news as a community, filter for only comments by members, improve fund-raising by helping improve engagement, and drive traffic for these nonprofits with free branded groups." By which I think he means that he envisions Reframe It being used sort of like a tour bus for the Web, in which groups can see everything out there, but stick together nonetheless.
The service also integrates with other social networks, Fishkin says, so when you're trolling the Web with Reframe It active you can easily filter out comments from people outside your circle.
All well and good, but I stand by my assertion that the technology has no hope for widespread adoption as a standalone browser extension. To be fair, the company has a widgetized version of the product that publishers can add to their sites. This lets visitors to the site flag items on pages and chat about them. They can't, though, just go to any site on the Web and have the same experience, as they can if they have the extension. But the tool for publishers is Reframe It's best avenue for success, even though it competes with other native comment systems (the ones you get on any blogging platform) as well as third-party comment products like Disqus. Alternatively, I could see this concept getting necessary traction, even as an extension, if it was very closely married to an existing social-network platform like Facebook. Reframe It needs a viral distribution push that I don't think it will get otherwise.