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He Said, She Said: Google Sidewiki

by Beth Harte  |  
October 1, 2009

This review of Google Sidewiki is being brought to you by Mack Collier and Beth Harte.

He said...
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.
She said...
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, 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 really slows down my browser (due to searching for Sidewiki comments no doubt).

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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's blog, The Harte of Marketing is featured in AdAge's Power 150, a globally recognized ranking of top media and marketing blogs and the MarketingProfs' Daily Fix blog.

You can find Beth here too: Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Beth also digs smart people, brilliance, history, the arts, culture, books (historical fiction & business), politics, travel, beer, and cowgirl boots.

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  • by Laura P Thomas Thu Oct 1, 2009 via blog

    I think I'm going to take a wait-and-see approach. Certainly it is something to keep an eye on, but if it fills up with nothing but spammy comments and trolls, it won't be useful and our customers won't bother to look. For an example, check what's been left at my employer's site on (you can see a screen shot on my personal blog - - if you don't want to download Google toolbar to get Sidewiki) ~LPT

  • by mike ashworth Thu Oct 1, 2009 via blog

    one of the main challenges with this for companies is not the tool but who is using it. I would imagine that people who use it now will be typical "early adopters" many of whom view life through a telephoto lens rather than a wide angle one. By that I mean they are glued to the social web, rather than sometimes taking a broader perspective. Group polarisation is something else to consider too where these ppl all end up saying the same thing. And lastly there is a propensity to hate this fail that hate this fail that that actually the real value of the comment / opinion is lost. just some thoughts @mikeashworth

  • by mack collier Thu Oct 1, 2009 via blog

    I also think that since SideWiki just launched, a ton of apps /etc are set to come that will enhance and expand on its functionality. And I agree, this fragments the conversation even further, but my mindset has always been that making it easier for readers to comment is more important than having ALL the feedback in one spot. I think we all need to be aware of SideWiki, at least. Much change will likely happen in the next few weeks/months.

  • by Brian Driggs Thu Oct 1, 2009 via blog

    I don't know what to think about Sidewiki. On the one hand, I like that it allows the opportunity for people to comment on sites that are otherwise too obtuse to allow discussion. On the other hand, I don't like that I have always made conversation on my sites a priority, so why should I now have to install one of those annoying add-on browser toolbars a la 1999, just so I can monitor something that isn't needed on my site? That's pretty frustrating coming from Google. I watched the demo for Wave a couple months ago and it was brilliant. You open a single program and all your conversations are threaded in waves, updating live to multiple sites and browsers instantaneously. But now I'm re-installing the annoying Google toolbar, restarting Firefox, and reading some other dude's site on how to "Claim my Website." WTF mate.

  • by Stuart Foster Thu Oct 1, 2009 via blog

    I'm going to agree with Beth on this one. Some pages on the internet shouldn't have comments...they aren't appropriate (and usually places where you can voice your concern are already available). Sidewiki seems to be something that is just dying to be gamed or spammed.

  • by Ike Thu Oct 1, 2009 via blog

    I don't like it. Google will give you a "no-crawl" code to keep your site from being indexed, but hasn't supplied an "opt-out" code for something even more intrusive. The single WORST sin here is that those SideWiki comments are not RSS-enabled. There is NO way to monitor without physically refreshing the page, and even then with the comments moving up or down based on voting, how do you know you've read everything? This is a fiasco, and I feel sorry for the first big business that gets hammered by SideWiki in a crisis. It's too flat, too wild, and not able to be monitored. Bad. Bad. Very bad, Google.

  • by Chris Wilson Thu Oct 1, 2009 via blog

    I have to say that I like the broad idea of what Google is starting here of connecting all of the web and allowing us to carry our profiles and our contacts with us. Every page becomes social. Sidewiki isn't perfect, but I think it is moving in a direction that we are inevitably moving. Just think about it. It doesn't stop here. This is similar to what augmented reality has created the potential for in mobile. With that said, my biggest complaint with Sidewiki right now is that there is no way to be notified of comments on your pages. I have no problem with people commenting on Sidewiki, but I do have a problem with trying to monitor all the pages on my blog and websites that have now become game for additional comments. Seems like a huge oversight. Maybe I missed this.

  • by Tamara Gruber Thu Oct 1, 2009 via blog

    Great discussion. I'm fascinated by the different views on SideWiki. I agree with Chris Wilson that my biggest complaint is notification for monitoring. I also want to understand how Sidewiki comments affect SEO and if it will be better to have people comment in Sidewikis or on the page. It would also be nice to have a way for commentors to choose to be notified if someone else comments, but also turn that off at some point.

  • by Kathy Herrmann Thu Oct 1, 2009 via blog

    My thoughts are mixed. At first, I thought, "Cool" but the glow is fading. First there's the issue others have brought up about some sites not wanting commenting. And whoever is paying the hosting fees should have control over whether they allow it...not Google. Second, there's the issue of tracking comments. Did I miss a notification process because I don't see one. And fa'sure, I don't want to keep Sidewiki open all the time. For one thing, it takes up too much window real estate. For another, it's slow and clunky to load. So far, this is an idea that sound cooler than it is. Maybe that will change but at the moment, I'm giving Sidewiki neutral to negative response.

  • by Chris Kieff Thu Oct 1, 2009 via blog

    Rather interesting that there are numerous comments on this article before mine, I was the first to post a sidewiki comment. Perhaps the problem will fix itself with lack of adoption? Remains to be seen.

  • by Beth Harte Thu Oct 1, 2009 via blog

    Chris, funny enough, even with Sidewiki installed...I don't see your Sidewiki comment. :)

  • by internet marketing Thu Oct 1, 2009 via blog

    The article is very good. It has got a lot of inforamtion. My commeent would only be that Sidewiki is a good feature of Google Toolbar (for Firefox and Internet Explorer).

  • by Ryan Fri Oct 2, 2009 via blog

    Remember that mom who harassed a girl on myspace, leading to the girl's suicide? Imagine what will happen if kids use sidewiki to harrass one of their classmates on a social network, with the student unable to do anything about it. Whether it's direct harrassment or rumors or whatever won't matter, they can have the same result. Columbine? Teen suicide?

  • by John Mack Fri Oct 2, 2009 via blog

    Google's Wacky Wiki is Whack! Pharma Should Demand Ability to Block It! See

  • by Elaine Fogel Mon Oct 5, 2009 via blog

    I thought the USA is supposed to be a FREE country? Shouldn't something of this magnitude be an option? The concept is a good one for those who CHOOSE to add the feature to their Web sites. But I can imagine what a nightmare this can be for small business owners, nonprofits, and others who don't have the resources to monitor and take action on these comments. One or two negative comments - whether truthful or vindictive - have the ability to affect the business outcome of these sites. Web 2.0 is an excellent tool for organizations that choose to enter into conversations with customers. But Web sites have always been their owner's domains (no pun intended) where content is under their control.

  • by Ted Vinzani Mon Oct 5, 2009 via blog

    I wonder, if someone leaves a false comment in a SideWiki on your site that you can't change, can you return the favor by leaving a false, unchangeable comment on the Google site?

  • by Tony Wanless Mon Oct 5, 2009 via blog

    I'm with Elaine. Social media is supposed to be about personal choice to join a conversation. Where's the choice here? Because google decides it's going to throw the gates open to all and sundry, every small business, especially an advisory business, is vulnerable. For example, among the comments above are two clear cases of spammers using a comment section that already exists.Imagine what they'll do if given unfettered access to websites. At least my blog software captures this stuff. Unfortunately, I have to take time to weed it out. Multiply that exponentially and you can see what small businesses will be up against.

  • by Tim Mon Oct 5, 2009 via blog

    I have NEVER installed any stupid add-on toolbar into any version of any browser. And now Google wants to pretty much force us to add their toolbar just to be able to follow the conversation on our sites? Bad move. I'd almost go so far as to say evil move. And then factor in that the only way to take ownership of your site is to register it with Google. And what happens when Yahoo or MS or anyone else comes out with a copycat idea and these things start proliferating all over your page? Google gains far more out of this than anyone else does.

  • by Miriam Schwab Tue Oct 6, 2009 via blog

    My problem with Google Sidewiki is the same as Tim's - that you have to install their stupid toolbar in order to access it. I would never install their toolbar if it wasn't for this. As a person providing social media services, I downloaded it so that I could at least be in the loop, took a look at the Sidewiki, and decided it wasn't worth allowing Google to intrude into my browsing experience, and removed the toolbar.

  • by Matthew T. Grant Tue Oct 6, 2009 via blog

    I left a Sidewiki comment as well - if you don't want to install the toolbar to see it - I'll be old school and reproduce it here in this clunky ol' comment section: "Is "enlightenment" positive? I believe that the questions and concerns raised by Beth are legit - Sidewiki certainly will change how people think about "their" content - and, in fact, there do seem to be some interesting down-sides to this (legal, competitive, etc.), but I think it's positive when people are given a graphic reminder that they cannot exercise ultimate control over their website content. Sidewiki shows that that frame is the thing - and anyone can frame anything they find on the web in any way they see fit."

  • by Google Sidewiki on Facebook Wed Oct 7, 2009 via blog

    I'm not a fan. For all the reasons already stated above. I think it's a bad move on Google's part and the lack of an 'opt-out' is my biggest issue.

  • by vps hosting Tue Oct 13, 2009 via blog

    Good article, and nice blog!, I will come back again to read more.. keep with the good work!!

  • by Beth Harte Wed Oct 14, 2009 via blog

    Hmmm, I checked Sidewiki and still no comments from Chris and Matthew. What could be the issue? Thanks everyone for your thoughts, insights! Interestingly enough, I saw that people were leaving Sidewiki comments on the LinkedIn do you think LinkedIn feels about that??

  • by Mike Osborne Mon Nov 30, 2009 via blog

    Just send me a page URL and $5 and I'll add a positive comment - you might even like to send me the copy - for $10 I'll do a negative one. On balance, I'm wary. Oscar Wilde comes to mind, "There's only one thing worse than being talked about..."

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