If you haven’t heard about Google’s SideWiki – you’re not alone. While it’s gotten a lot of ink type from SM bloggers and some traction on Twitter, lots of people still don’t know what it is, what it does, and what its implications are for your website and your brand.
Basically, Google SideWiki is a huge way to annotate the web. Think of it as seeing comments, additional links, and wikipedia style annotations alongside every webpage you visit. According to Google’s Video, you can link up additional text on the page to point to your annotation, or leave a comment on the page as a whole. Dont want to leave your mark? You can still view everyone else’s comments and rate whether they’re useful or not, or share a comment via Twitter or Facebook.
Is it useful? I think it’s too early to tell, but if it gains momentum and hits a critical mass of users (which could be likely since its now part of Google Toolbar) than I think it could be a massive game changer. What I’ve seen so far when I’ve checked out major brand sites such as Wal-Mart and Apple (screengrab)- and found some interesting things. On the first few entries you’ve got some informative information – how the company wars formed, a link to a past version of the site, etc. But under that (comment 3) you’ve got someone who’s highlighting some of the not so great things that Apple does. Keep in mind that this is all on Apple’s official webpage via the SideWiki.
First, I should note that you need Google Toolbar to use, view, and contribute to the Wiki. So just by going to Apple.com you wont’ see the entries. But I think this has huge implications for brands in particular.
One of the first things I always hear when I talk to businesses about social is that they are hesitant to get into the conversation because in many cases they’re afraid of things that users, competitors, and detractors will say about them on Social Channels. But the see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil doesn’t cut it anymore. Peeps are already talking out there, you might as well engage. But here’s where the game changes. With Sidewiki, there really is no longer an option to stay out of the social sphere. It’s gone off the reservation and right into your front yard. That’s the difference. The conversation has been moved from taking place exclusively on Twitter and FB, to your webpage.
I’m torn on this to be honest. I do think it’s cool that users can add info about a page that may not be obvious and share content that people would find really useful. But Jeff Jarvis brought up a good point:
Google is trying to take interactivity away from the source and centralize it. This isn’t like Disqus, which enables me to add comment functionality on my blog. It takes comments away from my blog and puts them on Google. That sets up Google in channel conflict vs me.
And even though I’m a firm believer that you engage your users on their platforms as much as possible, I think could be seen as a power grab to encourage people to comment using Google’s tools instead of on my site or other tools that we’re already having to monitor such as Twitter, FB, etc. It fragments the community into those who choose to comment with Sidewiki and those who choose to comment through a site’s internal comment system (or Disqus). On the other hand it gives everyone the option to comment on any site and any story, whether there is an existing comment system or not. Censorship be damned!
But at the end of the day, when / if this hits critical mass, companies, bloggers and news sites are going to have a new set of forces to contend with. You’re now by default participating in social media, albeit on Google’s terms.
What do you think about all of this? Will it spawn a new gold rush of online ‘curators’ who post tons of comments on sites they frequent to position themselves as experts? Will it encourage brandjacking, flame wars, or just be a dumpster for comment spam? Or does it give power to the people through the use of comments throughout the web? I think it remains to be seen. But in the meantime… I’d highly suggest you check out the SideWiki, play around, and most importantly, Claim your Sidewiki space. As an website owner, you’ll be the first commenter on your OWN site. Offering a brief welcome message . Use the space to talk about your business or what people can expect on your site. There’s a great post from Bill Hartzer with a step by step for claiming your space.
Oh and if you feel so obliged, leave a message on my page using the comment section OR the SideWiki.