Ready or Not? Google Pushes Social Media

Participation may no longer be optional.  Because – ready or not – here comes Google Sidewiki.

Here’s how PC World describes it:

“Google has launched a new feature in its Toolbar product that opens up a browser sidebar in Firefox and Internet Explorer to let people post and read comments about Web pages they visit.  Called Sidewiki, the product can be used to express opinions about a Web page’s content, suggest links to other online resources or provide additional background information.”

Here’s the scary part for corporations and small businesses.  You don’t control the comments.  You can’t edit them.  You can’t delete them.  And anybody who has Sidewiki will be able to read them.  Jeremiah Owyang at Web Strategy writes: “The impacts are far reaching, now every web page on the internet is social and can have consumer opinion – both positive and negative”

Thank you Google!

"Thank you Google!"

Sweating yet?

Google paints a rosy picture of people leaving behind valuable and insightful comments on web sites.  Helpful tips.  Observations to make the web site easier to navigate.  Friendly updates.  But anyone who has ever blogged or visited an online forum knows that the helpful tips are usually drowned out by the trolls, screamers and anonymous wiseguys.

Will Sidewiki be a troll enabler?

Hopefully, not.  First, to use Sidewiki you’ll need to be a registered Google user.  So while that doesn’t mean a commenter can’t be using an alias, at least there is some accountability.  Google also claims Sidewiki has an algorithm to push bad content to the bottom and good, helpful content to the top.

But what corporate marketing or communications department wants any foul or abusive content to be associated with their web properties?  Especially if said content is bashing the corporation or its products and services?

And there are other difficult questions.  Can competitors invade your web site and leave behind links and comments praising their own products?  Or worse, will they be able to buy ads on the Sidewiki attached to your site?  Will Google allow web site owners to delete misinformation or comments that are clearly misguided or wrong?  Can Google prevent mass “Sidewiki” attacks on specific web sites from groups or protesters with ulterior motives?

These are enormous questions.  So far, no real answers.

As Jason Falls notes at Social Media Explorer: “I’m bothered at the supposition that the world is ready for this. This software feature is the online equivalent of people suddenly being allowed to post graffiti, flyers and posters all over the front of your building.”

Here’s another log to throw onto the worry fire.  Is Google making a bid to takeover online commenting in general?

Many socialized web sites already allow for community participation through commenting.  Will Sidewiki supersede that?  This removes a lot of editorial control from the owners and operators of these sites.  It also prevents them from controlling the tenor and decorum of their own web sites.

For example, many forums and communities have guidelines and rules of behavior.  Can people avoid the rules by using Sidewiki to make comments instead?  What about people who have been banned from commenting at specific web sites?  Can they now do so through Sidewiki?

One thing is clear.  Corporations, if they haven’t already, need to aggressively move into social media.  They need a participation strategy.  Participation and preparation are key.

Standing on the sidelines is a dangerous option these days.

What are you thoughts about Sidewiki?

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13 Responses to “Ready or Not? Google Pushes Social Media”

  1. What I find interesting is that there have been browser extensions and other tools that enabled this sort of functionality for several years now. But in order to make them truly useful, you had to have friends on the services who went to the same sites as you. Google isn’t doing anything particularly new. Instead they have the marketshare to make the technology pervasive and to change the game, simply because they own the masses.

    Companies should be afraid.I wonder, will some companies decide not to advertise with Google if it turns out that they are being burned by Sidewiki? I mean why support the very company that may be inadvertently eroding your brand?

  2. Exactly, Crystal. Google has the power to make Sidewiki ubiquitous. But the concept is a dangerous one. As the owner of a couple of blogs, I find it outrageous that I’ll now lose control of the conversation. Google is taking that away from me.

    A few more questions:

    – Will comments sections on blogs become obsolete?
    – What if a blog owner deletes a comment because they find it offensive? Can that comment now be put on Sidewiki?
    – Google’s algorithm will supposedly suppress profanity, but just like SEO experts find ways to game the search algorithm will there now be ways to beat the Sidewiki algorithm to get your comment listed first?

  3. Have you ever heard of Third Voice? It was a company/application launched in 1999 that enabled users to post “sticky notes” on websites with their comments. Exactly the same thing as Sidewiki.

    The issue was that Third Voice only had that as a product and could not figure out a revenue model that worked (they were trying to go the ad click route). Even though they never got critical mass, there was a very vocal group that formed to oppose what they called “web graffiti”.

    Third Voice never got their additional funding and shut down in 2000, but the concept of independent information posting on a site did raise some scary questions, many you have touched on. One of the main ones, however, was the actual ownership of the domain and the content on it. From what I saw, had Third Voice continued on, there would have been a litany of lawsuits against them and possibly posters of comments.

    I think in essence Sidewiki has reopened the door and debate about what is controlled and what is fair game out there. Interesting stuff.

  4. It is time to come to disturbing reality: we’ll be rebranding the internet the Googlenet within the next few weeks. You won’t like the terms of service…

  5. Where have you been? Google already is the internet!

  6. it sounds interesting, and since most of us are bloggers already (and also comment givers) we should make use of the tool. google got negative press with most of their new services (from an influencing power POV). so far nothing serious happened. lets see how it goes. google has not also a strong opponent (in case something goes wrong): the community! us!

  7. its way to scary to me somehow near to the obscurity of the ownership of a domain. it is indeed web graffiti, and will be way too powerful if ever Google passes this on.

  8. Hi Aldous:
    I think there is little doubt now that Google has done it that other companies will release similar products – Yahoo! and Microsoft come to mind.

  9. It will be interesting to see how this pans out. I’m not trying to be a Luddite, but the idea of having this web graffiti as some of you accurately called it is worrisome. Yes the Internet is great in that it creates a level playing field. But why would companies/organizations put time and effort (and advertising dollars) into using it as a marketing and/or communications vehicle if Sidewiki allows for uncontrollable and potentially negative comments against them. Who’s to say that Sidewiki wouldn’t devalue Google as a go-to source for information and then another resource/interface will just come in and take over?


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