Oct 12, 2009

Is SideWiki Google Graffiti?

Google is huge, no doubt, but one area they have struggled is in establishing a social networking platform to connect their huge user base.  The more time users spend with Google – the more opportunities for Google to monetize off of them.  Granted, they have a lot of cool and free tools to play with, but there is a reason Google Adwords appear in your Gmail inbox.  Having a social network that users can hang out on for hours at a time is the big nut Google hopes to crack, and Google’s primary social networking nutcracker for the last few years has been Orkut.

Orkut?

Yeah Orkut.  You may have seen it if you have a Google account, maybe even quickly stopped to find out “what is this?” only to realize it is yet another social networking platform.  Everyone you know is already on Facebook, so why bother with Orkut – ever get a friend request from someone on Orkut?  I haven’t either.  Why bother – no one else is.

But Google has resources – lots of resources – and is continuing to find new ways to tap into the social networking goldmine.  The most recent big splash they made has been with Google Wave, a revolutionary new platform that has the potential to move Google into the Facebook and Twitter dominated spotlight.  However, another product has been recently released by them that taps into the social media network and at the same time could have a very drastic impact on your website.  This product is called SideWiki.  Oh, and pardon me while I giggle, as the word “wiki” always does that to me.

What is Google SideWiki?

Google SideWiki is a browser extension that you install that enhances the functionality of your Firefox or Internet Explorer browser (Chrome version coming soon).  With the SideWiki installed, you can now comment on any website that you visit and read the comments of other SideWiki users. Everything from SideWiki displays in a separate sidebar.

Is that it?

Basically, that is the gist of it.  My first thoughts were pretty underwhelming.  I mean we have tons of websites now where we can rank and review other sites.  I can bookmark a site in Delicious.com and write a review that other Delicious.com users can read.  I can put a StumbleUpon thumbs up or down review on a website I am visiting that other StumbleUpon users can see.  Seemed like more of the same.  But then it occurred to me that these comments and reviews are not happening on a third party website, they are happening on the site being visited.  This is important in that although I can moderate the comments posted on this blog, I can’t moderate the comments made on SideWiki.  I can also opt not to list comments on this blog, but I can’t opt out of having SideWiki users commenting on this blog.

But isn’t SideWiki a separate application that is part of a browser sidebar – not on the website itself?

Yes, and it can also only be seen by other SideWiki users – not visitors to the site that don’t have SideWiki or are not logged into their SideWiki account.  But it is still content that is displaying side-by-side with your website whether you want it there are not.  It would be like have an office building that Google puts up blank signs right next to and allows random people to come along and spray paint messages about your company on.  Some comments may be from satisfied customers  (great), but some may be from less than happy customers (not so great), some may be from competitors (uh-oh), some may be spam messages for Viagra (oh great) and some just may be juvenile drivel (yuck).  You paid good money for a nice website, why should it get junked up with user graffiti and framed in with content that is out of your control.  While the word “wiki” may make you giggle too, SideWiki could very well be no laughing matter for owners of business websites.

Now that I have (spray) painted a scary picture, not all is horrid.  Google SideWiki can be a nifty tool to communicate with your site visitors.  At the same time, I don’t see it becoming mainstream anytime soon, so most visitors will never see those SideWiki comments anyway.  Right now, SideWiki is just a trend to be aware of.  Google has the resources to push it hard or to repackage it into another yet-to-be-invented social networking tool that shows up a few years from now.  And what Google does, other developers will mimic and implement into their bag of tricks too.  So even if adoption of SideWiki is slow, you will see more of these types of tools in the near future.

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