Google recently announced the SideWiki – its basically a browser/toolbar plugin that allows you to make comments and notes on any website online. The idealistic explanation from Google is that such a feature would help to make the web more democratic by letting people share opinions and warnings about scams. The cynical response of many publishers is that Google is clearly trying to get more pageviews for its own content, especially on sites and pages they have nothing to do with creating.
The reality seems to be much more mundane, and frankly, much less interesting.
Only a few sites I’ve visited even have SideWiki entries. CNN does, Google does, Twitter has a few, and a handful of the other PR8-10 domains have entries on their homepage as well. Then there are plenty of well known sites in online marketing that have no entries at all. Nothing for Sphinn, nothing for DigitalPoint, and just a single short entry for Sitepoint.
What type of comments seem to get voted up? Well, its mostly the non-controversial ones that rave about how great a site is or add a bit of information about the site’s mission and history. Not a big deal, and far from revolutionary.
Beyond that though, is the exact reason why SideWiki probably won’t go anywhere: Faint praise is the “useful content” and the rest is absolute noise.
Sub-Categories of SideWiki Noise
- Testing – Yes, there’s a lot of comments that amount to “I’m testing out the Wiki!” Sure, this activity has a lot to do with the novelty of the sidebar, but if new members continue to sign up and use the feature, then they’ll be “testing” it out as well.
- Spam – With or without live links, some people can’t overcome the obsessive need to drop a link anywhere they can. And thanks to the SideWiki, they can run around dropping links to their site from all the top competitors in their niche. I can’t imagine this is a sound strategy, but it definitely adds to the noise and detracts from the value of SideWiki comments.
- Trolling – “FoxNews sucks, CNN is the most objective news ever!” This is kind of like the opposite of faint praise, except it targets the sites someone doesn’t like. Its roughly similar to showing up for a football game in the visiting team’s jersey – then drinking and shouting insults for the next few hours.
- Complaining about SideWiki – For Google.com, you could see complaints about the SideWiki as high as the #2 comment (these comments have since been purged). If you have business concerns about the SideWiki, you might want to vote that one up to the top. While I think the SideWiki is a big dud and not much of a threat to anyone but Google’s own credibility, it would be pretty hilarious to have complaints about it ranking at the #1 comment spot for Google’s own domain. Maybe that will get the Big G to re-evaluate the practical consequences of such a scheme.
Few people seem to bother writing in the Wiki (there was a big burst after the release, but this has all but died out). Those who do bother to add entries are recognizable characters from throughout social media and internet marketing. If you wanted to know what they’re thinking, they’ve almost certainly already blogged about it, twittered about it, or debated it over at their bookmarking sites. The very people who would be interested in such a feature already have a social media presence to worry about.
I don’t support sites that use frames and content jacking to inflate their pageviews on the backs of other peoples’ content. I don’t see how this one is any different, except that it might actually provide a unique service in a more ideal world. This is the real world’s internet though, and all SideWiki manages to do is bring the quality of Youtube comments to every URL on the web.