by: Robert Wang
Internet behemoth Google recently released an expansion to the Google toolbar, designed to give the online community the opportunity to submit unmoderated commentary in a collapsible side dock. Google calls its new creation the Sidewiki. It’s going to rock your world. Probably.
Users will be able to comment however they want, on whatever site they wish once they install the add-on. For example, a user wishing to leave his 2-cents on a CNN web article could simply type up his assessment, hit submit, and provided his comment met Google regulations, have his words immediately published. Similarly, comments can only be viewed if the add-on has been installed and the viewer is on a page where comments have been left.
While statistics show that the toolbar has been downloaded at least 2 million times from CNET alone, it is difficult to estimate just how many individuals actually know about, and moreover utilize the Sidewiki service provided by Google. However, if it ever reaches the mainstream—and there is a good chance of that, given the successful history of Google’s other product offerings—the potential for promotion, testimonials, and hidden goodies will probably prove too much for any good marketing business to ignore.
Ideally, this new add-on would grant individuals another medium through which it could provide invaluable third-party insight on hitherto unregulated e-businesses. Whether to sound the alarm on an attack page, to trumpet accolades to a well designed site, or give forum to a particularly thought provoking concept, the direction of the entire process would be determined by the masses.
And yet, therein lies the problem. The freedom it fosters will forever be its defining redemption, its potential for abuse will forever be it’s Achilles’ heel. It’s far too early in the game to tell whether or not the service will function as it was designed or become, like so many of its predecessors, a cesspool of virtual graffiti. (However, if the early, tentative test runs of the Side Wiki are any indication, the tone will be civil, constructive, and uncharacteristically reserved.)
Google claims that comments will be filtered and regulated in much the same way that search results are ranked for relevance. The more pertinent the topic, the higher it will be ranked by fellow users, thereby allowing it to float above the chaff, trash talk, and pointless spamming that tends to plague similar services. Irrespective, if you own a site, its probably a good idea to comment on your own page first so that you can set in motion a more positive precedent and block the potential hard-to-remove negativity spiral.
Understandably, a good number of businesses have already begun to raise protest at the thought of having the gateway to a torrential downpour of virtual anarchy unleashed upon their websites without permission. Never before has the public realm been granted such immediacy in its ability to deliver feedback. Users no longer need to navigate away from the page to read reviews, rather any evaluation, good or bad, is now literally a click away.
However, this isn’t to say this is a bad thing. People prefer to reference like-minded individuals before making a big decision–so in some senses the SideWiki is poised to become a sort of proxy for quality control like the BBB or veriSign Security button.
There’s potential for something great. Whether that manifests as another layer of detritus or as an invaluable tool hinges on how Google chooses to develop its brainchild. Fingers crossed.