Opportunity knocks with Google Sidewiki

sidewikilogo Google Sidewiki launched last month and opinion online is wide and varied. Much of that opinion suggests a brewing crisis for companies, their brands and other things of interest to them if people can comment at will on anything on the web, positive or negative, with no control at all, just with their browser.

I don’t know about any crisis. What I do see is opportunity, for companies and for anyone else with an opinion.

Take Trafigura, for instance. This is a company whose name was unknown by most people until it was propelled into the news headlines a few weeks ago as a key protagonist in the gagging the Guardian debacle.


The screenshot above shows Trafigura’s home page with Google Sidewiki enabled in my Firefox browser (it works in just two browsers at the moment: Firefox and Internet Explorer via the latest Google Toolbar). The sidewiki is like an overlay: clicking on the link in the toolbar toggles its appearance on or off.

There are two comments as you can see, as could anyone else in the world on the internet with a browser that has Sidewiki installed. The two comments you see are pretty innocuous; factual rather than opinion.

Trafigura can also comment if they so choose. Indeed, as a site owner, they have first call on a comment that is linked to their site, which would appear before anyone else’s comment.

To get a good sense of Google Sidewiki and how it works, I suggest you take a look at the website and view the 1-minute video Google produced.

And so what should organizations do about Google Sidewiki?Is it something to be alarmed about, seeing it just as a threat, another example of diminishing control?

Good questions, similar to ones that I discussed with Ged Carroll of Ruder Finn in a PR Week Video Podcast, published last Thursday and embedded below (RSS subscribers: if you don’t see it, please visit this site or PR Week’s).

I liked Ged’s simple explanation of what Google Sidewiki is: I think anyone would understand the concept from how Ged describes it.

As I said in our conversation, I do believe Google Sidewiki presents organizations in particular, as well as opinion-makers, with more opportunities than threats (and, yes, there are some).

I reckon the biggest threat is ignoring sidewiki comments, in a sense pretending they’re not there (eg, if you can’t see them, well, they don’t exist). Google Sidewiki is a tool you have to actively get hold of by downloading and installing the latest Google Toolbar. Then you have to explicitly choose to use it. And it works in only two browsers at the moment. So there are quite a few hurdles to jump.

It’s clearly early-adopter territory at the moment so usage is certainly far from widespread. To give you an idea of how far that is, I checked the websites (home pages) of the top 15 companies listed in the FTSE 100 by market cap. Only one company, BP, has any comments in a Google Sidewiki when I checked: one comment, positive sentiment.

sidewiki-nhcomprimary Note that’s any comments – including a primary statement as a comment from a site owner, something I’d recommend a company does. I have such a statement on this blog: if you have Google Sidewiki enabled, you can see it (the screenshot shows what it looks like).

One point about comments left by people. To start with, you can only leave a comment if you have a Google account and if you’re logged in to that account. Note the two in the Trafigura site, above, have the names of the commenters as hyperlinks. If you click a name, you go to the commenter’s Google Profile where you can find out a little about that individual: useful for monitoring and making assessments of influence and authority online.

From a commenter’s point of view, connecting with his or her profile is good for demonstrating your credentials as all your Sidewiki comments are aggregated there as well – a central comment repository that connects you to all the places where you left them.

So as I’ve said, I do see Google Sidewiki more as an opportunity for organizations than as a threat. If you want to know more about that, with some other points of view, I have a list of talking points I prepared for my own use in the PR Week podcast discussion which I’ve included in this post, after the jump, below.

Meanwhile, get to know Google Sidewiki. Maybe that’s better said as get used to Google Sidewiki: the concept of commenting anywhere, anytime, in just your browser – which is the wiki concept – will go mainstream from a user point of view once it’s integrated in your browser and not something you have to separately install, because it will then be so easy.

From an organization point of view – and this mostly means from a monitoring point of view – mainstream will be when tools like Radian6 include Google Sidewiki in their broad measurement and analytics offerings.

I’d give it less than a year. Good time to get well prepared.

Related post:

Talking points on Google Sidewiki for PR Week Video Podcast discussion
Neville Hobson, Head of Social Media Europe, WeissComm Group, London.
October 20, 2009.

1: What implications do you think that Sidewikis may have for brands?

  • Opportunity: another means of enabling anyone with an opinion, including your customer, to give you feedback.
  • Disruptive: anyone could, in theory, make any kind of comment about your brand, good or bad.
  • Recognize that Google Sidewiki is yet another tool for engagement.
  • Recognize, too, that it’s also potentially further scattering of conversations on the web, so finding effective means to track all of it is important.

2: Do you think that it’s going to be a threat or is it overblown?

  • It illustrates that another genie is out of the bottle concerning control of information and conversations. There is no control, only participation.
  • Some will see it as a threat, undoubtedly. After all, anyone could leave a comment in a sidewiki on your site, with no permission from anyone to do that, nor waiting for any comment approval to take place.
  • Others will see it as innovation, another way of moving the semantic web forward. That’s how I see it: a positive addition to the channels of engagement on the web, unruly and engaging though they often are.
  • I can see some issues of concern in regulated environments such as the healthcare and financial services industries. How would you address comments left by people that might run counter to some regulation? Would regulators regard such comments as an integral part of your website and perhaps penalize you? Etc.

3: Have companies now lost control over their own websites?

  • I don’t think so. Look at it as an opportunity to find a new way to engage with people who are interested enough in your online content to use Sidewiki to comment.
  • As with all interactive communication channels, you’ll pay close attention to what’s happening on your website so you’ll see whenever Sidewiki comments appear that will help you determine what you need to do.

4: How should they use the tool to enhance engagement with people?

There are a number of things you can do. For example:

  • Carefully monitor comments on the sidewiki so you’re aware of what people are talking about and the sentiment of comments and, thus, be better informed on what issues/topics interest or concern people.
  • Leverage services like SidewikiRSS which lets you create an RSS feed of any page’s sidewiki comments.
  • Consider writing a publisher comment on your own site. Such a comment by a site owner will always be the first comment you see in a sidewiki on a given website. There’s an element of perceived control in that, too.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Richard Bailey

    No Google toolbar for Chrome; no Google Sidewiki support in Chrome. Google’s certainly an impressive and innovative business, but is it as ‘joined-up’ as people imagine (or fear)?

  2. Katelyn Mashburn

    Neville, great analysis of Google Sidewiki. I will bring this up in my J399 Social Media class on Monday, which I’m sure will fuel an interesting conversation. Interested to see how companies respond to criticism via Sidewiki.


    Katelyn Mashburn

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