Google Sidewiki – More Power to Ya

Web 2.0 is all about giving people on the web a voice. It is a shift away from broadcast communications to user-generated content. This is why it has been so popular as a movement or trend or whatever you care to call it. Web 2.0 took a leap forward this week with the launch of Google’s new Sidewiki feature.

Google pitches the Sidewiki as a tool that allows us to “help and learn from others as you browse the web”. In essence it is an add-on to your web browser that allows you to leave comments on any webpage of anyone’s website regardless of whether they allow comments or not.

Think about that. Anyone can leave a comment anywhere on the web without restrictions. On the one hand this could result in anarchy with spammers leaving spam and SEO hacks leaving keyword-laden links everywhere. On the other hand it could be a really powerful tool for citizens and consumers to have their voice heard.

Think of it as the next generation of TripAdvisor, except that you can get all the reviews for a product or service without having to go to another website.

The Sidewiki comes with the latest version of the Google Toolbar. The Google Toolbar is a handy feature that you can add to your browser. I used the bookmarks feature on it which means that I can access my bookmarks/favourites from any computer.

Google's Sidewiki as it appears on your browser toolbar
Google's Sidewiki as it appears on your browser toolbar

Clicking the Sidewiki icon on the toolbar opens a panel on the left hand side of the webpage you are browsing where you can read the comments left by others, rate them or add your own comments. You can make comments on the entire page, or highlight areas on the page to make specific comments on.

The Sidewiki integrates with other applications such as Blogger or Twitter so that you can let everyone in your social network know you’ve made comments.

How Sidewiki appears on any webpage
How Sidewiki appears on any webpage

What I don’t like is that there is no alerts facility. I’d like to know when someone leaves a comment on my website or as a response to a comment I’ve left on another site. Not everyone is happy with this as it will become difficult for webmasters to manage comments since they won’t have visibility when new comments are left. Google is the master of alerts so I suspect that we’ll see that feature soon.

Also, as you navigate away from a page the Sidewiki panel disappears. This is a little frustrating. I’d like to browse and have this open the whole time. The social web is now of more interest to me than the old one and not shutting the panel each time I go to a new website would be an improvement.

Google will collate all the comments you post on your own Google profile page. However, all the comments for a particular website are not collated together. Indeed it would be very useful to have all the comments for say “hotels in Ireland” collated in a single location. I’m sure some clever developers out there will harness the potential of this new tool.

For all those business owners that have buried their heads when it came to the social web – ignoring the conversation that are taking place online about their brands – this will be a wake up call. If Sidewiki takes off then the social web is going to land on their doorstep. This is like having customers in your shop shouting at the top of their voices about what’s good and bad with your service. And you can’t kick them out!

This is Google’s official video explanation of the Sidewiki:

9 thoughts on “Google Sidewiki – More Power to Ya

  1. Hi brendan
    I totally agree with your concerns – outwardly perhaps an exciting new horizon dawns -but as you point out – if unsolicited, unannounced and essentially unmanageable inserts (constructive even negative comments may be fine – but spam and the nastier variety of vindictive comments etc could create a whole new wave of illfeeling towards wikis)
    So keep the faith!!

    steve

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  2. Hi Steve. Thanks for the comment. While Google does have a facility to report inappropriate comments in the Sidewiki – I’d wonder about their ability to keep on top of it, especially as the tricksters get the hang of it. Already I’ve seen a bit of junk in the Sidewikis on different websites.

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  3. Good post Brendan. I noted your Tweet about the first comment on Ryanair – http://www.google.com/sidewiki/entry/112791893410589804449/id/bJiAT6AvtAM

    I had a look at the SideWiki entries on Microsoft.com last week and there were quite a few negative comments in there already.

    I posted an entry in my internal blog at the end of last week, posing the question on whether this was a game changer, after reading this blog entry from Jerimiah Owyang – http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2009/09/24/googles-sidewiki-shifts-power-to-consumers-away-from-corporate-web-teams/

    While I outlined similar concerns to your own regarding spam, I was generally positive in my outlook. However, in return I got quite a few negative comments, which I thought I’d share with you – see below.

    “I won’t use SideWiki as it requires the bloatware of the Google toolbar”

    “Not really a fan of the annotate the web movement, which has been around for a decade now. SideWiki is a lot like PMOG without any of the fun”.

    “This (very negative) article has a lot to say.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/blog/2009/sep/24/google-sidewiki-commenting

    While I’m not very familiar with earlier attempts to annotate the web my initial thoughts are that having the name of Google behind this is more likely to make it succeed, than previous attempts.

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  4. Hi Frank. Thanks for the comment. You draw attention to an interesting meta-concern for us all, namely the continuing growth of Google’s influence over all things web.

    When it comes to search, online video and cloud computing Google is already king. However the social network space is one that has eluded them. Facebook consciously blocked out Google’s bots and Twitter remains independent inspite of Google’s rumoured approaches. Something like the Sidewiki gives Google a potentially powerful tool to step into the social web.

    While Google is great at what it does; hence its success, do we really want a goliath to dominate all aspects of the web? Microsoft dominates the OS and browser world. Google dominates the cloud. A battle-royal is about to kick off as Microsoft launches Azure, it’s rival to Google’s cloud this November.

    Competition between these two will be good for consumers, but imagine if competition turned into strategic alliances – see what happened between Microsoft and Yahoo! – golaiths are always bad, even if there are two of them.

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  5. I agree with you Brendan, the domination of Google is certainly a concern.

    This morning on my walk, I was listening to the latest episode of “This Week in Tech” – http://www.twit.tv/214 – and they briefly mentioned Google’s SideWiki. While there was certainly some skepticism, one interesting point was that in the next release of the Google Chrome browser, SideWiki will be a permanent feature on the browser, and there will be no need to install the Google Toolbar.

    If Chrome becomes more popular (and who would bet against that) then perhaps there is a greater chance of SideWiki becoming more widely used, pending of course that the address the issue of spam.

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  6. Hi Brendan,

    While I can appreciate the overall idea behind the sidewiki, I would be concerned that it’s going to take the conversation off the site itself and onto Google! I’d be much happier if people were conversing on my website.

    Am I right in thinking you have to install Google’s toolbar to view it? I hate additional toolbars :D. Is it true that you can disable that sidewiki feature being available on your particular site?

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  7. Frank/Donagh, I think that the Google toolbar might indeed be the stumbling block for Google here. Chrome still have very small penetration which indicates that Google is not going to be a success at everything they do.

    If website owners had a choice as to whether the Sidewiki is active on their site or not, you can be sure that most would block it.

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  8. Well its been a few weeks now and the sidebar wiki concerns I had originally have indeed manifested themselves, though whether they are for the good or bad is still in debate in my own view its “bad”.

    Sidewiki was put to use in the recent case against Trifigura in the UK, where gagging orders where put in place by the legal system to silence reprorting but twitter opened up the opportunity for people to make their thoughts known, subsequently this spread to the Trifigura website via Googles sidewiki… (funny on this occasion but also a heads up on what can happen to anyon if the intention is there.)

    Check out trafigura.com and you will have to turn the sidewiki feature on.

    Funnily enough, on this BIG story the sidewiki entries have been “cleaned” up, presumably by Google, which adds more fat to the fire. Whats the sodding point of the sidewiki if the comments get deleted anyway.

    Frankly, I cant see it taking of at this stage, but that dont mean its not something that needs to be monitored.

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  9. Hi Justin. Yep, in the few weeks since it has been live the Sidewiki has certainly not captured people’s imagination. It has not become a place for people to have side-conversations about websites or articles.

    For my part I actually turned off the feature on my Google toolbar. On one of my computers it ground Firefox to an almost standstill and on another it caused my browser to crash more than once.

    I guess Google won’t always get everything right.

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