Search Marketing

Google Sidewiki Has Potential for Big Impact

October 23, 2009

Google’s new Sidewiki tool is a browser-add on that allows web surfers to contribute information next to any webpage. The Sidewiki appears on the browser sidebar, where a user can read entries or add their own comments to the content of a page (see example below). Not unlike other Google experiments, such as Knol or SearchWiki, the tool is founded on a concept of user-generated content (UGC).

Google’s new Sidewiki tool lets users comment on webpages.

How to Become a Card Carrying Member

To contribute or view Sidewiki entries, follow a few short steps:

  1. Get a Google Account — if you have a Gmail account, you’re set.
  2. Download the Google Toolbar or, if you have it already, enable the Sidewiki Version.
  3. Login to your Google Account while surfing the web.

Follow these steps and you can consider yourself a card carrying member of Sidewiki. From that point forward, your Google Toolbar-enabled browser lets you create content about any page you visit or view comments and information provided by other Sidewiki users.

How to Contribute to the Conversation

Below is an example of my own comment on Google’s blog post about Sidewiki –

Here’s an example of UGC on the Google blog post introducing Sidewiki.
Above: A published comment appears in the sidebar.

Share Your Own Sidewiki Banter

Sidewiki also lets you share UGC on different social sites. Just click “Share” and you can share your comment on Twitter, Facebook and more.

Sidebar users can tweet comments, and share them across other platforms as well.

Current Impact for Marketers

So what’s the current impact of Sidewiki on marketers and site owners? Frankly, not much for now. The real impact will depend on future UGC participation levels and adoption rates of the Google Toolbar. Current visibility is likely limited to the Internet “nerd elite,” or “power users” — those early adopters of Google products and tools. Other interesting UGC products have yet to catch fire, per the aforementioned Knol and SearchWiki tools Google has launched in the last few years, so Sidewiki will have to beat the odds in order to gain mass appeal.

Early adopters are often more likely to be critics, therefore the UGC may have a negative tone about the page a user is viewing, at least in the beginning. These are things a marketer should start investigating and at the very least begin to monitor. The API (mentioned below) allows marketers to monitor comments on their pages and leverage this information.

The Google Sidewiki API lets marketers monitor and receive updates on Sidewiki conversations regarding their brand.

This developer API makes things really interesting for marketers or brands looking to leverage or work more proactively with Sidewiki data. The API allows marketers to monitor and receive updates on new Sidewiki content added about specific pages or comments of specific authors. Marketers can also leverage the API to incorporate feeds of the Sidewiki UGC into widgets and other social spaces across the Web.

Potential Impact for Marketers

So what’s the potential impact of Sidewiki? Possibly huge! Especially since Google’s Official blog post, mentions some “under the hood” technology that makes things a little nebulous on what’s next for Sidewiki. Plus, if Google can help automate and connect more third-party UGC into their own Sidewiki, it may encourage more people to become card carrying members. The more UGC contributed to pages via Sidewiki, the larger its impact will be for marketers.

Another side effect is that Google will now create a secondary version of your URL (once commentary is added for the first time). For now, these shadow URLs have limited or no visibility in the actual natural search results, but some URLs are becoming indexed in Google’s web catalog. For example, over 1,000 new entry pages have now been indexed, stored in Google’s database but yet to unleash any potential query relevance in search results pages. It’s yet to be seen how Google will fully utilize its own Sidewiki version of your URLs, but could be a huge development.

Secondary versions of web URLs are now indexed by Google (Live).

Below is one example, contrasting Google’s secondary URL, now shadowing the real Wikipedia “Google Wave” page URL. It’s simply a secondary dimension of what Google users think about the real page URL.

Note: Secondary URL indexed, with UGC commentary seen in listing description.
Clicking on the above link, even users without the Sidewiki toolbar installed/enabled will still see Google’s secondary URL.

Some might consider this fairly “aggressive” on Google’s part: producing an alternate universe of all web pages. Brands will soon find out if users prefer Google’s “redlined” version, or the original site sans commentary. Marketers may soon have another parallel universe to follow, and brands will need to be aware as “redlined” commentary is added to their sites. Leveraging Google’s API is currently the best method to monitor activity against a portfolio of domains a brand might control.