Proving once again that it is the Santa Claus of the Internet, Google last week announced yet another free toy: Google Sidewiki. Sidewiki is an addition to the Google Toolbar (so far only for Firefox and Internet Explorer) that allows anyone to leave comments and links on any web page anywhere on the Internet. The comments appear in a left-hand slide out that can be opened and shut either from the toolbar or by a small handle icon that appears on pages when you have the toolbar active. This video shows it in action:
This morning Sean Carton of ClikZ ruminated over the possibilities and pitfalls of Sidewiki for businesses and marketers. On the fear side, Carton asserts that this is one more giant leap toward complete loss of control by marketers over their message. That has certainly been true for some time now; do something that pisses off consumers and it will be all over social media, blogs, forums, and product review sites. Sidewiki significantly ups the ante, however, in that now those comments can appear right on your own web site, and there is nothing you can do to stop or block them. (Actually, that’s not completely true. One commentor on Carton’s post said that he had successfully used an SSL certificate to block Sidewiki. This has some backfire potential, however, as a Sidewiki user visiting a site so blocked may have suspicions about what the site is trying to hide.)
Two things occur to me that are not brought up in Carton’s post:
- It is not yet clear how widespread Sidewiki usage will be. How many people will actually bother to install it (and have to take on the Google Toolbar if they don’t already have it)? And among those who do install it, how many will form the habit of using it and checking it regularly? I’m a Google toy addict who installed Sidewiki the moment I heard about it, but even I forget about it most of the time I’m surfing.
- Marketers who have already gotten over the fact that you can’t hide anymore–and better yet have embraced the idea–should welcome whatever community does end up using Sidewiki with open arms, viewing this as one more channel for valuable listening and interaction. Google has put in place some safeguards to try to minimize spamming and abuse (comments can be voted up and down, and there is an easy link to report abuse), but it remains to be seen how effective they will be.
Finally, here’s an example of a Sidewiki post I just did. Recently my family enjoyed a wonderful weekend on Bald Head Island off the coast of North Carolina. While there I capture a number of videos of the island’s gorgeous sights with my iPhone and uploaded them to YouTube. I was able to embed one of these YouTube videos (of pelicans flying over the surf) as a Sidewiki at the home page of BaldHeadIsland.com, the web site of the island’s prime vacation home developer. If you have Sidewiki installed, go to BaldHeadIsland.com and view my brief video.
In fact, I love Bald Head Island and its scenic beauty so much, I’ll even share my video with you if you don’t want to install Sidewiki. Here you go: