This review of Google Sidewiki is being brought to you by Mack Collier and Beth Harte.
There's not many new social sites/tools/applications that come along that make me say 'Whoa!' (actually I said 'Oh shit!'), but Google Sidewiki definitely did. Basically, it makes any page on the Internet become social by letting you comment on the content there, as well as what others have left. The potential ramifications of this are staggering, and after using it a bit over the last few days, here's what I like and dislike:
What I like: I love the idea of being about to quickly and easily comment on any page I want. And the commenting process is MUCH easier with Sidewiki than compared to leaving comments on blogs. And I love that I can mark the text/content that I'm commenting on, and that portion of the page is highlighted when you view my comment.
What I dislike: There are a couple of big problems I see with Sidewiki. First, who is moderating the comments left? Is there ANY ability built-in to oversee comments? If a competitor posts factually incorrect information on your company's website, what recourse do you have in having it removed? Any?
Second, this means any page can now be commented on, even if the owner purposely did not want you to have that ability. Case in point, Seth Godin has long refused to allow comments on his blog. Now he has no choice, Sidewiki users can comment there to their heart's content. Should they be able to?
I think the bottom line is that Sidewiki is too big to ignore. Companies will have to pay attention to Sidewiki, and I have started advising my clients to add Sidewiki to their browsers and start monitoring their sites for Sidewiki comments. This is just another sign that you can't ignore feedback from your online customers. This is just the start, similar functionality will no doubt soon be built into Facebook and other sites.
The best way to deal with this if you are a concerned company is to actively monitor your sites for Sidewiki mentions, and respond to any comments. In fact it might not be a bad idea to be proactive and leave comments welcoming readers, if no one has left a comment on your sites yet.
While I had the same reaction as Mack, it wasn't in a good way. I think my visceral reaction is one of a traditional marketer who has put WAY too much blood, sweat and tears into many a website. Even as a blogger, I don't think Sidewiki is "cool" or great for "user generated content" (that's what comments are for, right?). That said, I haven't played with it a bunch other than claiming my website/blog.
As marketers we write or select just the right copy for our websites, and then it goes through legal (in some cases) and is finally uploaded to the website. Everything has a purpose and a home.
Now, with Sidewiki any Tom, Dick, Harry, Tina, Doris or Harriet can come along and highlight something on an organization's website and leave a comment via Sidewiki. That comment might be nice and helpful or it could be spam or it could just be misinformation left with good intent.
Think about a pharmaceutical company. What if someone leaves a comment stating that they are taking slightly more than the prescribed amount and it's working out great for them? What if someone follows that advice and is harmed?
Having worked for technology companies for many moons, I can tell you a lot of website content is technologically specific (of, course). If someone were to leave a Sidewiki comment with bad technical advice that someone else follows it could potentially lead to bodily harm, electrical fires, failures, etc.
What are the legal ramifications of these scenarios? And like Mack asked...who's moderating?
Yes, yes. I get it... Freedom of Speech, this is the best thing since Internet sliced bread, this *IS* Web 3.0, etc. But, really...is it? If you're a company, you can't opt-out, but you can claim your site THROUGH Google's Webmaster Tools (slick on their part, eh?). The best you can do is then leave a comment in the Sidewiki for everyone to see (it will remain on the top of the Sidewiki) with a message you want to present as an organization.
From a "social" perspective I have questions too. If you could delete Sidewiki comments, would that be considered bad social form? Like deleting a comment from a blog? What if a competitor left a comment?
If you are an organization (or know one) that isn't budging when it comes to social media, I have a feeling Sidewiki will force you to learn how to become social really fast!
First things first, go claim your site or have whoever runs your website do it.
I see only negatives here... Enlighten me with the business positives?
P.S. One more thing I dislike about Sidewiki...it really slows down my browser (due to searching for Sidewiki comments no doubt).
Beth Harte is a marketer, blogger, speaker, communicator, thinker, connector (people & dots), adjunct marketing & PR professor and Director of Marketing at Advent Global Solutions.
Beth has over 15 years of experience in integrated marketing communications, strategic planning, branding, SEO/SEM and five years of experience with social media. Beth speaks on a range of topics including: integrated marketing and communications, public relations, brand monitoring and management, social media measurement & ROI.
Beth also digs smart people, brilliance, history, the arts, culture, books (historical fiction & business), politics, travel, beer, and cowgirl boots.