Participation may no longer be optional. Because – ready or not – here comes Google Sidewiki.
Here’s how PC World describes it:
“Google has launched a new feature in its Toolbar product that opens up a browser sidebar in Firefox and Internet Explorer to let people post and read comments about Web pages they visit. Called Sidewiki, the product can be used to express opinions about a Web page’s content, suggest links to other online resources or provide additional background information.”
Here’s the scary part for corporations and small businesses. You don’t control the comments. You can’t edit them. You can’t delete them. And anybody who has Sidewiki will be able to read them. Jeremiah Owyang at Web Strategy writes: “The impacts are far reaching, now every web page on the internet is social and can have consumer opinion – both positive and negative”
Google paints a rosy picture of people leaving behind valuable and insightful comments on web sites. Helpful tips. Observations to make the web site easier to navigate. Friendly updates. But anyone who has ever blogged or visited an online forum knows that the helpful tips are usually drowned out by the trolls, screamers and anonymous wiseguys.
Will Sidewiki be a troll enabler?
Hopefully, not. First, to use Sidewiki you’ll need to be a registered Google user. So while that doesn’t mean a commenter can’t be using an alias, at least there is some accountability. Google also claims Sidewiki has an algorithm to push bad content to the bottom and good, helpful content to the top.
But what corporate marketing or communications department wants any foul or abusive content to be associated with their web properties? Especially if said content is bashing the corporation or its products and services?
And there are other difficult questions. Can competitors invade your web site and leave behind links and comments praising their own products? Or worse, will they be able to buy ads on the Sidewiki attached to your site? Will Google allow web site owners to delete misinformation or comments that are clearly misguided or wrong? Can Google prevent mass “Sidewiki” attacks on specific web sites from groups or protesters with ulterior motives?
These are enormous questions. So far, no real answers.
As Jason Falls notes at Social Media Explorer: “I’m bothered at the supposition that the world is ready for 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.”
Here’s another log to throw onto the worry fire. Is Google making a bid to takeover online commenting in general?
Many socialized web sites already allow for community participation through commenting. Will Sidewiki supersede that? This removes a lot of editorial control from the owners and operators of these sites. It also prevents them from controlling the tenor and decorum of their own web sites.
For example, many forums and communities have guidelines and rules of behavior. Can people avoid the rules by using Sidewiki to make comments instead? What about people who have been banned from commenting at specific web sites? Can they now do so through Sidewiki?
One thing is clear. Corporations, if they haven’t already, need to aggressively move into social media. They need a participation strategy. Participation and preparation are key.
Standing on the sidelines is a dangerous option these days.
What are you thoughts about Sidewiki?