Google is always working on new products. Many go nowhere, while others become darlings of web technologies like Gmail. Google’s latest entrance onto the Social Web its SideWiki. It’s not so much a wiki as it is an imposed commenting system. Whether you want it or not, SideWiki effectively enables anyone in the world to comment on your website.
Not only can people comment on your site without your permission but they can also share their comments via email, Twitter or FaceBook (as of today). In other words comments in SideWiki can be dispersed and distributed and Re-Tweeted and Liked across the web at the speed of light. If your organization has a website, you probably want to brace yourself for a bitch slap: whatever “control” you thought you had about your message is clearly gone. Controlling your response (and being ahead of the game by being the best at what you do) is about all you have.
WHAT IS GOOGLE SIDEWIKI?
I’ll let Google explain to you it’s claim about SideWiki.
In order for SideWiki to be used, it has to be downloaded and used as a toolbar. Right now, it seems to work with FireFox but as Google refines and evolves the product, we could expect to see the tool proliferate in use.
I tested out SideWiki on a post by Seth Godin regarding his Brands in Public project. I chose his post for two reasons: Seth has comments on his blog turned off (he’s remarkable with email exchanges with his readers though) and SideWiki demonstrates how little control brands have anymore in “controlling messages”. If you downloaded the tool bar, you can see my SideWiki comment on his post. Alternatively you can see my comment on my Google Profile (it just appeared there under a Sidewiki tab – Google didn’t offer this as an option, nor did it inform me it posted my Sidewiki comments on my Google Profile – but I’m sure I consented somehow in Google’s TOS).
An important feature to note is that comments on SideWiki aren’t necessarily in order of appearance – i.e. reverse chronological, as in traditional blog commenting. Rather, Google’s mystery algorithm sorts out the order of comments. I also suppose Google will somehow address spam. For more on this, see Danny Sullivan’s post.
So we not only have an imposed commenting system, we have – in some sense – Google’s algorithmic logic being applied to your website in the way comments appear. Which is to say: Google influences the volume of influencers‘ voices. You’re not just dealing with comments streaming down a straight temporal line: community voting on comments and Google’s ranking system of those comments work together to determine the pitch and tone and loudness of comments.
Finally, questions remain about SideWiki’s ramifications on search results. Clearly, there’s a lot to absorb here, which is one more reason to establish best online practices and keep focused on principled online communications.
I don’t know if SideWiki has a future or not. SideWiki isn’t the first attempt at web annotation. But now that social networking and services are growing in their adoption, we can expect to see the proliferation of distributed messaging. Whether SideWiki fails or succeeds, the technology it represents is here to stay in some form.
Organizations which already have a web presence or those who are just now planning to enter the social web, now have an even tougher task ahead of them. And yet, for every challenge or danger lies opportunity. Those organizations which not only can face the challenges that mass distributed messaging create but also leverage the opportunities will fare well in the coming years. Organizations won’t die just because they ignore social media – but ignoring these technologies and communities is now a matter of Risk Management at the least.
What I find especially interesting here is this: how many organizations will even know about this? How many hospitals or Pharma companies or widget-makers will have hundreds of comments (positive or negative) right on their website (for all intents and purposes) and not even know about them? How embarrassing could that become?
HOW TO BRACE FOR A COMMUNICATIONS BITCH SLAP
In a nutshell, individuals and organizations are going to have to endure a process of radical acceptance: the days of mechanically generating attention via advertisements are giving way to a century of organically captivating fandom.
I would categorize two approaches to dealing with commenting systems like SideWiki: the Philosophical and the Practical.
- Meditate. Seriously. Go out into a field or sit under a shady tree and focus on your breathing, reflecting on all of the marketing principles and assumptions you’ve made since college and over the course of your career. It’s not too late for a re-view and re-think. (And never too early for a layoff.)
- Radically Accept. We all want control. (I was an ICU nurse – ergo I’m a control freak, so I understand how hard this one is.) The fact is, about the only thing we can control is our mind: how we view things, what we decide, what we say and how we say it. Once you forgo the controlling-mentality, it frees you up for the important stuff, such as: clarity, creativity, fearlessness, discipline and focus.
- Download the SideWiki toolbar and monitor for activity on your site – even if you don’t have a blog or are philosophically opposed to it.
- Set a policy (a simple one) on how your organization responds to comments.
- Whoever does your responding should know how to communicate, display grace under pressure and criticism and who understands the various modes of communications.
- Keep up-to-date with Google’s project by following it on Twitter.
- Currently, SideWiki doesn’t appear to offer a notification system, so be prepared to comb through comments (or monitor Twitter for your brand mentions).
- Keep honing your online communications skills: if you don’t already blog, consider doing so if only for the discipline and skills that come along with blogging.
It remains to be seen how popular this little feature will become: as is often the case in the Sillicon Valley hyper-echo-chamber, the uber-geeks tend to overstate the appeal of shiny new toys. Regardless, if you haven’t learned the lesson about how to prevail in a chaotic world, this is your chance. At least you’ll be able to endure and overcome the inevitable bitch slaps that you’ll sustain now and again.
HOW SIDEWIKI COULD EVOLVE
A last point to make is the future of SideWiki (or similar tools): the integration of other social features which enhance its powers.
For instance, I realized while writing this post that you could comment on a Twitter Status page using SideWiki. If Google added a FriendFeed-like commenting system, one could easily start a chat around a particular tweet – currently Twitter chats take place using hashtags and clients like TweetChat. Imagine configuring SideWiki not only as a Twitter client but also as a web-wide social device for curating, sharing and conversing. Click on the screenshot below:
SideWiki on a Twitter status page
It’s integrations like these that usually lead to the next big thing. All the more reason for organizations to keep current with the social web – and for hiring and cultivating the people who excel in the useful and innovative applications of these sorts of technologies.
Google, so far, hasn’t done well in the social front – at least not thus far. If FaceBook were to exploit their recent FriendFeed acquisition and make a play for a similar real-time web-wide commenting and sharing system, we could see the emergence of a new kind of war: Google has the edge in search and advertising, Facebook in social media and Twitter in real-time messaging.
At any rate, the future is open for your organization to consider. Two posts I’d recommend you read right now on Google’s SideWiki are Andrew Keen’s SideWiki: Google Colonial Sideswipe and Jeremiah Owyang’s Google SideWiki Shifts Power to Consumers – Away From Corporate Websites. Both men have wholly different opinions about the fundamental nature of the web – and both are probably right about Google SideWiki.
Oh, and you can comment on this post using SideWiki and then tweet it to the rest of the world. Let’s see if I can keep up with the graffiti.