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.