Google's SideWiki: Don't Say We Didn't Warn You

Feature Brings Commenting to Your Site, Whether You Want It or Not

By Published on .

Josh Bernoff
Josh Bernoff
Let's be clear. Sidewiki is a land grab. Google has now set up real estate on every single website for commentary from the masses.

Once a person is signed up (and anyone can -- it's part of the Google toolbar), he or she can comment on any page and see comments from others on those pages. Google uses an algorithm to decide which comments go at the top. And Google, not the site owner, decides which content must be taken down because it's inappropriate.

The web is full of whining from site owners about how this space, out of their control, is not fair. Get over it, folks. Regardless of whether it is fair (since when is the web fair), you'd be better off learning to deal with it. This is quite similar to what StumbleUpon and Delicious enable, but, because it's from Google and it's more visible on pages, it's a bigger deal.

Two questions and answers.

One, will it catch on? Yes. It could take a few years to get big, as Twitter did, but because it's on Google's Toolbar, it has a seductive interface (a little tab on pages with comments) and can become viral. As users spread it, it's going to grow.

Two, what should marketers and site owners do? First, claim your site. Second, monitor and respond to comments. (With the Sidewiki API available, it will likely soon be built into tools like Radian6.) And third, add your own social features -- now.

If you add social features, such as ratings and reviews, comments, and forums to your brand site, your media site and your blogs, they'll be far more convenient for visitors. They'll generate discussion, but discussion you can moderate to your own standards. And if the interesting discussion is on your site, people won't be compelled to comment with Sidewiki.

It's likely that Microsoft will build similar features in its browser, and Yahoo and Facebook may also dive in. But Google has the first-mover advantage. If you're smart, you'll start monitoring this activity now, while it's small. Don't say we didn't warn you.

Josh Bernoff is co-author of "Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies," a comprehensive analysis of corporate strategy for dealing with social technologies such as blogs, social networks and wikis, and is a VP-principal analyst at Forrester Research. He blogs at
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