<< by on September 24th, 2009
Yesterday Google unleashed its new product, Sidewiki — a way to allow website visitors to essentially leave comments and commentary in various formats on any given web page on any site. Google’s official blog describes Sidewiki as:
Today, we’re launching Google Sidewiki, which allows you to contribute helpful information next to any webpage.
Here’s an example of how Sidewiki looks on web page:
The Sidewiki appears on the left side of the page, in the large box I’ve outlined in red. Notice how I was able to leave a comment, even on a very specific sentence on the site (highlighted in yellow) at right. Users with Sidewiki enabled can leave comments on an entire page or even just a few sentences — similar to how you might add comments in a Microsoft Word document. You can also share your comments via a link, email, Twitter or Facebook.
But like Google Knol, I’m of the opinion that Google Sidewiki is simply a new shiny object that will lose its luster in the future. Here are my three top hurdles to mass Google Sidewiki adoption:
Hurdle 1: Toolbar Installation
While I do believe many Internet users currently use the Google toolbar (I could not find any current stats on number of downloads or users), current users will need to upgrade the toolbar to enable the Sidewiki features. Additionally, Sidewiki is not a default set option in the toolbar, so a users must know how to enable it as well.
(If you’d like to learn more about installing Google Sidewiki, Danny Sullivan wrote a great post at Search Engine Land about Sidewiki on Monday showing how to install and activate Sidewiki and how to use it.)
While I know that many folks download the Google toolbar, I don’t think that it might have the mass adoption for this very reason. It’s the same reason I don’t put much faith in Alexa statistics. Alexa pulls its data from its Alexa toolbar, which also requires a download by users. If you do not have the Alexa toolbar installed and running, your web surfing statistics are not included in Alexa’s rankings.
But, Google plans to also add Sidewiki to Chrome…
According to the Official Google Blog, there are future plans to add Sidewiki to Google’s Chrome browser, with over 10 Million estimated users as of December 2008, which would help further penetration. No word yet on when the Sidewiki-Chrome marriage would launch.
Hurdle 2: Sidewiki Button Gets Lost on the Web Page
After the l enabled my Sidewiki, I started to play around with it a little bit. I have a rather large screen, and I found that the Sidewiki button was difficult to find… primarily because it is located at the very bottom left corner of web pages. Therefore, the user has to scroll in many cases to even see the tiny button:
Hurdle 3: Misuse and Spam
Google contends that the Sidewiki will let the cream rise to the top through its Sidewiki algorithm that ranks the comments from users. According to Google’s VP of product management, Sundar Pichai, and :
In developing Sidewiki, we wanted to make sure that you’ll see the most relevant entries first. We worked hard from the beginning to figure out which ones should appear on top and how to best order them. So instead of displaying the most recent entries first, we rank Sidewiki entries using an algorithm that promotes the most useful, high-quality entries. It takes into account feedback from you and other users, previous entries made by the same author and many other signals we developed.
OK, sounds great. But Google Sidewiki allows for multiple types of content to be added to the comments section. For instance, take this example we tested on a VW.com web page:
Testing this function, we were able to add a comment to VW’s GTI product page featuring a video of a product from a competitor. While Google’s algorithm may be able to catch words, it likely will not be able to do much about image or video content spam and misuse.
Note: Because this was only a test, we have since removed this video from VW’s GTI page.
What I feel is lacking with Sidewiki is a way for site owners (like in this case, VW) to receive alerts about new comments and have some control over them. While I agree that social media and commenting should encourage open dialogue, no site owner wants to see negative comments or competitor spamming directly on its website!! I’m surprised that Google has not yet added a feature to Google Webmaster Tools to allow site owners to block negative comments of this sort.
Site owners can, however, leave the first comment on the site and it will remain permanently — sitting outside of Google’s Sidewiki algorithm as Sullivan displayed in his post.
Another Consideration: Online Reputation Management
Along the same lines as spam and misuse comes the issue that VW was essentially faced with above: monitoring the Sidewiki and addressing its online reputation. As I mentioned, there is not currently a way to be alerted to comments on your site via Sidewiki through a tool such as Google Webmaster Tools, but there likely is a way to do this via the Sidewiki API. I’m working on this now myself and will post information on how to use the API for reputation monitoring shortly.
For now, though, some online reputation experts such as Andy Beal say they’re not terribly concerned with Sidewiki (he posted six reasons why he’s not worried about it yet):
Sure, Google Sidewiki has the potential to become a reputation headache, but a lot of stars would have to align for that to happen. Let’s all keep an eye on it, but if you’re really worried about your Google reputation, I’d start with what shows in the main search index.
Good advice, Andy. So for now, I’d watch Sidewiki, but I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over it just yet.