Google has recently announced the introduction of Sidewiki, a tool that allows internet users the chance to comment on any site they visit on the web. When you have sidewiki enabled you can also see the comments that other users have made. So, we must ask ourselves, is this one of Google’s better inventions, or will it cause more harm than good?
During the early days of its release, sidewiki is available to internet Explorer or Firefox users, and Google are hoping to have sidewiki on Chrome as soon as possible. You need to install the newest version of Google toolbar and install the enabled version. This allows Google to know all of the pages you visit; otherwise it cannot send you any of the sidewiki information available for the page you are viewing. However this is not a new feature of the toolbar as anyone who has page rank enabled will have let Google know what pages they were looking at.
Taken from the Google homepage, you can see a tiny blue line at the left hand side of the screen. This is what you will see on every site that sidewiki can be used on.
If you put your mouse over the >> or the bubble, the sidebar will expand and you will be able to see the comments and comment yourself.
This is a snapshot of what you see when you click on the >> or bubble. You can click on the down facing arrow next to Google Sidewiki to add your comments. You can move through the comments by clicking on ‘next’ or ‘previous’ at the bottom of the window.
Comments are not listed in age order. There is a complex Google algorithm with many factors which determines which comments appear first. Some of the factors that Google have identified and internet users have guessed at include;
• The quality of the entry
• What Google knows about the author
• User contributed signals including flagging and feedback
• Use of sophisticated language-Google has a language sophistication detector which works in the 14 languages that sidewiki supports
• User reputation
• User history-How long have you had a Google profile, when did you start commenting, etc.
Just as Google gives every web page a Page Rank, every Google profile has a Profile Rank, and you are more likely to have your comments posted higher if you have a better profile rank, although as of yet there is no way of knowing what your profile rank is.
If your comments are not deemed to be of a high enough quality, they will be flagged by Google, in a yellow top bar pictured below.
You will always see your own comments if you are logged into sidewiki. If you want to try and find where your comments rate, sign out of sidewiki. You will still be able to see all the comments that have been made but you will not be permitted to add anything new. If there are not enough comments for a particular page, Google may use blog posts that comment on the webpage. The sidewiki window on Twitter is full of blog posts. As more and more comments are made by individual users, these blog posts will start to disappear.
Rating, Making and Sharing Comments
You can rate comments that have been made through sidewiki. If you click onto a comment, you are asked whether you found the comment useful, and can answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to this. If you think that the comment is inappropriate, you can flag the comment by clicking the ‘Report Abuse’ tag.
Making a comment is easy. All you have to do is open the sidewiki side bar and click on the logo at the top. A drop down menu will appear with the option to write a comment. Once you have finished click save and your comment has been made. You can put links into the text using HTML however these will be nofollow, or drop a YouTube link into the comment so people can see associated videos. If you need to edit the post, there is an edit option as well as the option to delete your comment.
If you want to comment on a particular part of the page, for example a quote, you just highlight the text you will be commenting on and make a sidewiki about this text only. The added bonus is that if the quote appears on any other web pages, your comment will be used on these too.
Each comment in sidewiki exists as a standalone URL, and Google encourages these links to be shared. You can share your comments by clicking on the ‘share’ tab next to edit and delete. When you click on this you have the option to copy the link, send it via email or post it on your Twitter or Facebook page.
Site Owners’ Comments
Even though the links you add to your comments are nofollow, they could still be a valuable source of traffic to your website and that of your competitors. If you have verified site ownership through Google Webmaster Central, you have the chance to claim the first comment on your web pages when you first open sidewiki on your site. If there are several owners of the web site they will all have this option. If you claim the first comment it will always be shown at the top of the comments. When you make more comments, they will be spread throughout the rest of the comments on the basis of the sidewiki algorithm.
Do not try to fill the whole sidebar with one long comment however, as Google has taken steps to prevent this by condensing comments. You cannot block your competitors from commenting on your site, but by making several well written comments you can try to dilute their influence.
Problems With Sidewiki
Although the algorithm used by Google when choosing which comments to rank higher than others is supposed to filter out any unhelpful comments, the tool is open to spam and comments that will be of little help to anyone.
Companies will be able to fill pages of relevant content with sidewiki comments containing links to their sites, increasing traffic for themselves but it may come at the cost of the original webpage losing custom. Also, until the comment boxes for all web pages are used, what is to stop spammers entering irrelevant content into the comment boxes?
There is sure to be uproar when controversial comments are made, like holocaust denial comments or pro-racism comments. Having no way to censor this type of content may act to kill sidewiki. Threats, hate rants and socially unacceptable material may be added to the comments. There is nothing to stop a link to a pornographic site from being entered as a comment on the sidewiki bar on a children’s website. All of these things are sure to attract much criticism towards Google sidewiki.