Sidewiki: Embrace it or Hate it?

by Gert Mellak on September 29, 2009

Since its launch, there has been quite a lively discussion about Google’s new product Sidewiki. This small piece of software can be installed with the new Google Toolbar in Firefox and Internet Explorer and basically lets you comment on any web page you want. All a page’s comments will show up to other Sidewiki users and can be voted up or down by other users. What at first sight looks like a big chance for the social web movements, at closer examination turns out to represent a potentially serious threat for site owners.

Comments – no, thank you!?

Up to now, many websites, especially blogs have offered features to have users participate and comment on articles and entries. It was up to the sites’ owners to decide whether they wanted to allow comments or preferred users’ participation in other ways. They had the chance to kick out spammers, delete or modify comments containing inappropriate language, or could even restrict the comment feature to registered users.

Since the launch of Sidewiki, things have changed from one day to the other: With average Internet users certainly embracing this new feature and less Internet savy users installing Google’s toolbar without knowing Sidewiki, basically the whole web has gone social. You don’t have to be a prophet to predict that a huge share of users are going to use Sidewiki within the next months. Comments on your website will therefore become something you have to deal with – whether you like it or not.

Everybody can do what they like

While Google claims there’s a great anti spam feature included filtering out the typical “This site sucks” messages, you can be sure your competitors are going to sign up for fake Google accounts, just to leave a few messages on your site claiming to have had problems with your customer service or to be unsatisfied with the products you offer. jatinmahindra.com described Sidewiki like 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 (Source)

Those running websites in a serious way are used to comments in forums or blogs about their products or services. The big difference Sidewiki brings up is that everybody will read the comments right on your website. In other words, exactly those people interested in your products and services will read comments of others who, behind a fake identity, try to draw a questionable image around your brand.

Technical aspects

At the moment there’s just Sidewiki and an API nobody seems to be using yet … – right now, if you are running a web store with 20.000 pages, you should better take a week or two off if you want to know if someone has left a comment on one of your product pages – you will have to have a look at each and every one of them. Obviously, this won’t be the case after a few weeks have passed – I expect developers launching apps that inform site owners about Sidewiki posts made on different parts of a site.

Strategies?

A few days after Sidewiki’s launch, Jeremiah Owyang was one of the first people to share some thoughts on what might turn out as one of the biggest problems site owners have to tackle within the next months. He correctly states that “control is shifting to the customers” and gives the following three pieces of advice:

  • Shift your thinking: recognize that you don’t own your corporate website – your customers do.
  • Develop a social strategy with dedicated resources.
  • Don’t be reactive to negative content – embrace social content now.

Whatever strategy you might adopt – get going soon! You really want to get a grip on Sidewiki before your customers competitors do. Maybe it’s the right time to invite your web consultant to talk about the activities planned for next months.

Effects on the Web

As most of Google’s products, Sidewiki will definitely have an effect on the web. It’s pretty early to make predictions, but one could imagine many site owners, in case they don’t heavily depend on it, reducing the amount of content offering online. I could even imagine companies running two versions of their website – one for people using Sidewiki (in case there’ll be a way to detect that) and people not using it. Whatever happens, I’m sure site owners will have to react – otherwise their websites won’t continue to be useful at the long run.

What do you think about sidewiki? How are you going to change your strategies? Is your company going social now because of Sidewiki?

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Matt Czarnek 12.24.09 at 3:34 am

Very Interesting.. I wonder widely used this actually will be.. I guess on the plus side it means that those companies that give their customers the best experiences should receive a boost from this and those that don’t treat all their customers well will lose some.

Not necessarily a bad thing from a customers perspective, and while a new way you have to be competitive ultimately I don’t see it changing much since those companies that treat their customers well still should be the ones currently doing the best. I do find the fact that you could sabotage competitors a little unsettling though.

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