The recent launch of Google Sidewiki is destined to be one of the most controversial products ever to be seen on the Internet. The blogosphere and Twitter stream is simply alive with complaints about the implications of the Sidewiki.
Sidewiki is like a mini-forum or comments board that appears down the side of a website visible to anyone with a Google toolbar installed. Anyone (with a Google toolbar) can leave a comment in the Sidewiki.
The outcry from website owners is that all this will lead to is a giant graffitti board for spammers and competitors to abuse other people’s websites. There is no way for website owners to delete or moderate their comments or even more importantly to opt-out of the technology. Website owners can report abuse – but from what I have read it is taking Google moderators about 48 hours to respond and in the world of online that is a lifetime – moreover, it seems that this lag will blow out further if Sidewiki takes off.
Google’s moto is “do no evil”, but judging by the outcry in social media I would say the general opinion is that in this case they have crossed the line. Josh from www.hostelmanagement.com sums up general feeling when he said on Twitter “if Google wants to have a review site for my website, fine, but not *on top* of my own website. ”
What does this mean for an average business with a website? Well it could be massive. Spammers are clever and they are already working away at applications that will go through the Internet writing alongside websites via Sidewikis quickly and effectively. But, competitors are worse! At the moment there is no way to stop one hotel writing on another hotel’s website, promoting cheaper beds or tour operators slagging each other off. I am definitely not a spammer, but I find myself already considering going to all competitor websites for my clients and writing comments promoting our product – or alternatively my own affiliate links.
An average website owner will need to be vigilant of the comments that are written reporting them to Google as soon as they appear. Likewise they will need to be continually active on Sidewiki on other websites promoting themselves and also being able to respond to any bad press they may get. As yet I have not seen a way to monitor any mentions of your own company in Sidewiki unless Google Alerts works sufficiently quickly. Potentially I could write a blog post about a particular travel experience – say on the Travel Generation website. We currently have a comments section, but I would moderate these if I felt that the conversation was becoming derogatory or unproductive for readers. With Sidewiki this policing will simply not exist.
I found one statistic that said approximately 20% of web users have the Google toolbar installed in their browser – which means that immediately 20% of web users can start writing and viewing comments.
There is no doubt that this technology is going lead to much more heated debate in the coming weeks and some of it is bound to get extremely vitriolic. I for one am against Sidewiki and I agree entirely with Josh that I don’t care if someone develops website review and discussion sites (Digg, Stumble Upon etc are already these) – but I do take offence if it happens on my own site. Already there are solutions being developed that will block Sidewiki from showing up on your site I would expect these to become prevalent pretty quickly. The interesting thought is what will Google then subsequently do to websites that block Sidewiki will they seek retribution through degrading their search results performance – or even blocking them from search results.
In the meantime, I will be perfectly honest – one part of me wants to hook into Sidewiki right now and start writing on everyone’s website promoting my own affiliate links and client sites. Why not play the Google game and become evil?