is an online document sharing and discussion website. Users upload, view, and comment on shared documents. These comments automatically link to the relevant section of the document.
Access is simple and quick. Along with sharing documents there are some basic social networking functions. Everybody has a (bare but functional) profile, and you can trace back a users commenting history and profile from any comment they've made. You can create, and send invitations to, “groups” that will share a specific set of documents together, and an address book is also provided for managing your contacts.
Each comment is nested in a “conversation,” which helps focus discussions around particular issues or problems. The main design principal of the website seems to be customization. Documents can be made public or private, withheld or closed to commenting until certain dates have passed (which may be useful in the classroom), and organized into discrete folders.
In general, the program has a lot of flexibility and potential. For instance, one can choose to see only the document, or only the comments, or choose from two different methods of displaying both information tracks; either in side-by-side columns, or by directly interspersing the comments in the document. I particularly like that you can adjust the comments section to only display a summary line for each comment, which aids in browsing through more in-depth conversations (and therefore may encourage such in-depth conversations).
On the other hand, there is a downside to all these options. Presumably some of the display options are more optimal than others, but it's hard, especially for a new user, to really get a good handle on what the best set up might be. Furthermore, either because more attention has been placed on customization than usability, or because the different features interfere with each other, the interface feels cluttered and clunky, and it can be a little confusing to keep track of everything. As long as I'm complaining, I'm not sure the tagging option (which can sort both documents and comments) is particularly useful, although there may simply not be enough activity as of yet for it to really shine.
Although the service is fairly new, and there isn't a lot of content on there yet, you can get a reasonable idea of the use-case (e.g. in discussing the potential ramifications and issues involved with the separate steps in a recipe). All in all it's a very a comprehensive and functional site, although I think the presentation could be adjusted so as to provide for a less cluttered and more intuitive experience. I think the customization is great, but it is something of a double-edged sword, and in implementing it particular attention should probably be paid to the default settings; the settings most people will experience.
Last week I got the chance to talk with Dan Doernberg, the President of the company, and I think he made a strong case for the educational uses of NowComment, uses that I hadn't really considered. In-class group discussions, in my experience and, apparently, in his, can often be frustratingly superficial. The problem is that there's really only time and space for one ongoing conversation in a classroom, which means interesting tangents, and more in-depth back and forth interactions, get sidelined. NowComment looks like it could create the space needed for deeper discussions, by allowing simultaneous organized interactions.
I think Dan also had some interesting things to say in response to Laura's comment below about google docs, and I've invited him to come by and leave a comment (and hopefully, at some point, physically visit us as well).