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: