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September 30, 2009

Dealing With Google's Sidewiki Land Grab

by Josh Bernoff

We just released a research note about Sidewiki for marketers (available in full to clients only).

Let's be clear. Sidewiki is a land grab -- Google has now set up real estate on every single Web site, for commentary from the masses. (Go here to sign up -- it's part of the Google toolbar.) Once a person is signed up, they can comment on any page, and see comments from others on those pages. Google uses an algorithm to decide which comments go at the top. And Google, not the site owner, decides which content must be taken down because it’s inappropriate.

The Web is full of whining from site owners about how Sidewiki, out of their control, is not fair. Get over it, folks. Regardless of whether it is fair (since when is the Web fair), you'd be better off learning to deal with it. This is quite similar to what StumbleUpon and Delicious enable, but because it's from Google and it's more visible on pages, it's a bigger deal.

Two questions and answers.

One, will it catch on? Yes. It could take a few years to get big, as Twitter did, but because it's on Google's Toolbar, has a seductive interface (a little tab on pages with comments), and can become viral as users spread it, it's going to grow.

Two, what should marketers and site owners do? First, claim your site. Second, monitor and respond to comments. (With the Sidewiki API available, it will likely soon be built into tools like Radian6.) And third, add your own social features, now.

If you add social features like ratings and reviews, comments, and forums to your brand site, your media site, and your blogs, they'll be far more convenient for visitors. They'll generate discussion, but discussion you can moderate to your own standards. And if the interesting discussion is on your site, people won't be compelled to comment with Sidewiki.

It's likely that Microsoft will build similar features in its browser, and Yahoo! and Facebook may also dive in. But Google has the first-mover advantage. If you're smart, you'll start monitoring this activity now, while it's small. Don't say we didn't warn you.


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Jill Carpenter

Yeah, I want to monitor EVERY SINGLE WEB PAGE of my sites! Good luck there on a small entreprenuer with a thousand or so pages who barely has time to build their site and carry on with regular promotions just to make a sale. Like I have ANY say over web 2.0 properties where I have contributed an article.

I'll be too busy installing a side wiki blocker to be land grabbing.

Amber Naslund

Hi Josh,

What's interesting to me is that Sidewiki is thrusting social web commentary in the faces of lots of folks that may, to date, have been ignoring it because it wasn't on their doorstep. Out of sight, out of mind and all that.

But your point is well taken: providing your audience and community with ways to share, offer feedback, comment, vote, and react to your stuff is one way to have them engaged with you, in your house, rather than on sites and places that aren't yours to tinker with.

We're definitely paying attention and seeing how Sidewiki evolves (and how companies respond to the spotlight it shines on their stuff).

Thanks for the post...

Amber Naslund
Director of Community, Radian6

Tom Rau

Hi Josh,
I agree with Amber that this will give social media an enormous push. Companies ignoring the social media developments will now have to face the fact that social communication is going on. Even on there own website. Whether they want it or not. So I believe it's best to adapt as quickly as possible to this new reality and make the best of it. As you already suggest, it's best to offer more comfortable tools like blogs forums and customer social networks to enrich the discussion and divert communication to them. This way you can reduce the workload to monitor each and every page.

relenet - social network solutions

Sara Zhang Abramson

Great suggestions, Josh! However, on the other hand, a friend of mine, who is a Wikipedia guru does not think the Google Sidewiki will be as successful as Wikipedia, as it'll be subject to all kinds of abuses. Obviously Google wouldn't allocate as much manpower as that put out by the global community of volunteer editors and admins of Wikipedia to do the cleanup job. Another question I want to throw out there is, does Google treat Sidewiki as part of the site? If so, does the usage of Sidewiki actually pump up the site's ranking on Google search engine?

Tim Smith

Shades of Third Voice! Anyone else remember them? It was my favorite failed 90's startup by a long shot.

Diigo also permits this kind of functionality now.


Hi Josh,

The SideWiki feature isn't evil in itself, but is quite open to abuse and spam in it's current implementation.

There's nothing that prevents me from leaving a comment or more on this page, or thousands others, and it may be days if not weeks before they are noticed.

With the current implementation of SideWiki, there's no place where you can get notified when someone posts a SideWiki comment on say your tomato raising site, so you can't check out and moderate.

It's up to the random surfer to down vote a comment on the page they're seeing, and if the comment is cleverly enough written it may even get a thumbs up even though the information is plain wrong.

Or you can spend whatever free time you have watching all your site pages like a hawk for comments.

Until Google will adapt the technology to offer some kind of moderation queue, or an opt-out to webmasters, I've created a program that is very easy to install on any kind of site and will effectively hide any SideWiki comments left by surfers.

If this is something that could be of interest to you or your readers, you can find out more here:


I'm a firm believer webmasters ought to have a choice. That I tried to offer when creating it.


Ryan Healy | Google Sidewiki

It's a bit curt (and perhaps short-sighted) to simply say, "Get over it."

Not everything Google has done has caught on. They ditched their print ads service, as well as a few other services, in winter 2009.

And Chrome has yet to become really popular.

Right now, I feel it's best to resist the "land grab" instead of rolling over just because "it's Google."


Steve Warriner

Hi Josh, yes we can learn to deal with it, and that can span from doing nothing to blocking it.

@Catlin, you can monitor your pages for side wiki comments:

That page has a link to solutions for heavy traffic sites and to a blocker.

My most recent blog post contains more approaches to the side wiki, and stay tuned for update in progress.

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