I've recently joined the Posterous parade and subscribed to Google Sidewiki. These technologies are going to mess you up. Posterous is one of the emerging class of so-called “lifestreaming” tools (Ping.fm is another) that magnify the voice of individuals by syndicating their comments through multiple online outlets. With Posterous, my messages automatically ripple out to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, my blog and even video- and photo-sharing sites. Post to Posterous and be published everywhere.
Sidewiki is, potentially, even more disruptive. Google describes it as a way to “contribute helpful information to any Web page,” but it is really an invitation for customers to take over your site. A feature of the latest version of the Google toolbar, Sidewiki enables anyone to share commentary about any Web page. With a single click, visitors can see other people's opinions in an adjacent sidebar.
Sidewiki currently is an opt-in service, but it can become so much more. Google could easily start integrating comments from a visitor's social circle that it is already collecting in its Social Search experiment. It could complement that information with sentiment analysis like the star ratings used in restaurant reviews. This means that your message will be running adjacent to others' opinion of your message. And there isn't a damn thing you can do about it.
Marketers successfully turned back an effort by Seth Godin's Squidoo last year to build brand profile pages that performed much the same function as Sidewiki. However, Google is in a position to be more resilient to such objections, given the enormous competitive value of contextual aggregation.
Services such as Posterous, Sidewiki and Google's new Wave platform are taking the commercial Internet to a new level. The first 15 years of the Web were all about sites: Information had a virtual home, and it was up to the visitor to find it. That scenario is about as efficient as requiring friends to come into your living room to hear your movie review.
The next evolution of the Web will take us beyond the site to a metaphor based upon content. Twitter began the journey three years ago with a service that casts messages into cyberspace to be caught wherever readers choose to catch them. Twitter has a Web site, but the majority of its active members send and receive tweets through third-party readers. Nearly every social platform will offer this kind of integration in short order.
These trends will disrupt traditional concepts of influence. Individual opinions will increasingly be magnified and syndicated through channels that can't easily be evaluated by monitoring comments, trackbacks and Technorati rankings. Marketing messages will be less important than the audience's validation of those messages. The winners will be the companies that do the best job of enticing constituents to do the talking for them.