Google SideWiki Extorts Google Network Participation

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Google continues making moves toward establishing a monopoly on the web, with today’s announcement of SideWiki.

SiteWiki is basically a Google Toolbar addon which lets anyone with a Google account comment about your site or add content, to the SideWiki, which can appear on the side of your site. This gives Google expanded presence on ALL websites its toolbar users visit and will open up all kinds of online reputation management issues for businesses.

Let’s just review what they’ve done prior to this:

Now, Google is telling site owners that they can either participate in SideWiki or else see competitors’ nasty comments dominate the discussion about their site(s). Worst of all, you can’t block Google’s SideWiki from appearing alongside your website so as to opt-out. It’s also unclear whether webmasters will even know when their site is being displayed with SideWiki.

What Google Is Trying To Force Webmasters Into Doing And The Side Effects

1. To participate in SideWiki, you need a Google profile. This helps Google compete with Facebook and Twitter by getting people into its own social network-like system.

2. Not merely content with getting people signed up, SideWiki coerces webmasters into participation in its system.

  • First, if you want to control at least the first SideWiki listing for your site, Google in its infinite generosity will allow you to do that. Provided you sign up for your Google Profile, and Google Webmaster Tools, you can own the first listing.
  • For reputation management reasons, you need to have all the above-the-fold listings. Those are based on Google’s ranking system, which prioritizes SideWiki entries from quality participants. The more comments you make around the web, and the more ‘this was helpful’ clicks they get, the greater your Google Profile’s strength.
  • Similarly, on pages where your company or brand is being discussed, you’ll want to own the SideWiki comments. Participate more.

3. There are also other incentives for participation.

  • You can drop nofollow links for traffic
  • Having your name appear alongside prominent sites can be good branding if you’re in the same industry. See eg Danny Sullivan on
  • Strengthening your network, since this obviously will turn into a Digg-esque vote trading game amongst reputation management pros.

I’d love to hear how you guys feel about this in the comments and what you plan to do. Personally, I’m trying to raise hell on this since Google already has way too much power over webmasters, and over the web in general. It would be great if you raised similar concerns on your own blogs and on Twitter.

*I’m aware of the argument that there are decreasing marginal returns on having more data, but I think that assumes that the data is all of a like nature. While I’m no statistician, I’d argue that having more data, when it’s different in nature from what you already have, isn’t subject to that rule. It’s the difference between learning the multiplication table for 33, when you already know the multiplication table(s) for 1-10, vs learning about logarithms or calculus.

Gab Goldenberg

Gab Goldenberg

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  • Rose Matthews

    I honestly don’t know how great or what type of an impact this will have on web businesses, but I’m genuinely excited about what this could do to evolve the web as a whole. It seems a natural and obvious step to an informative and community-based browsing experience.

    So I intend to immediately embrace Sidewiki, watching how people use it and prodding it to see what happens.

    As for Google being too powerful – yes, they are becoming overlords of the internet but there’s one reason: they’re good at it.

    • Terry

      From a legal standpoint I think Google could be taking on a huge liability/responsibility:
      1) they would, or could be, modifying the data stream that was intended by the site owner through it’s hosting company. Ex: what if this were a stock site, or all the www retail sites.
      2) what if they, or others via Google, use it to manipulate customer choices. this could possibly cripple some site owners by crippling sales
      3) provides a potentially unfair advantage against approved, paid advertisers…including Google’s own adsense buyers.

      This is not the “next social integration”. It’s control. It’s over the top.

  • Todd Mintz

    With as many people as there are still using IE6, I wouldn’t “cry foul” just yet…I see the odds of widespread adoption of Sidewiki as pretty long.

    • James H

      I disagree. Our web stats for our site show an increasing 63% of our visitors use IE7, and with Microsoft updates rolling out IE8, it also is on the rise. We have 27% that use FireFox 3. All are prime users of a new toolbar app like Sidewiki.

  • Duncan

    Just what we need. We can spend days, weeks, and even years creating a quality site, and some ignorant know-it-all can deface it with his stupid, lame, and jealous comments. I look at Sidewiki with the same “love” that I look at four-letter words sprayed on the side of buildings during the night. And Sidewiki is giving them free spray paint at my expense.

    That webmasters are now expected to adopt Sidewiki to defend their site is just insult to injury. If this “feature” is so good, then Google should allow sites the option to turn it off — then we can see just how “valuable” it is to those creating content as opposed to those who want to just spout off at our expense.

    • Gab Goldenberg

      That graffiti analogy is excellent, Duncan! If I could edit the post, I’d throw that in as a subtitle :).

  • pierce moffett

    It seems astounding to me that there is no way for websites to opt out of this. If I were a webmaster, I think I would be furious. How many sites are going to see their side-wiki fill up with negative comments from competitors or other detractors? Who has the time for al this “repuation management” required to exert some control over sidewiki rankings? And so much for moderated blog comments, or maybe blog comments entirely.

    I think it’s an interesting idea, but there should be a way for site owners to opt out. Google is essentially seizing control of the entire internet.

    • Gab Goldenberg

      I think that it shouldn’t even be opt-out – it should be opt-in! This isn’t like search engine traffic that is desirable and so the general rule is to opt-in unless you specifically opt-out. This is undesirable generally, so you should have to opt-in for this to appear on your site.

  • James H

    I find it sad to think that Google has just (in essence) loaded a blog onto each and every website on the Internet without the owners permission. By not allowing an opt-in/opt-out participation, Google has just fired up the flame wars between competitors and spammers. This was a very poor decision by Google. The first chance I have to block Sidewiki I will. There is not a good reason to allow Google to have this much control over property in which they do not own. I wouldn’t allow just anyone to post a sign in front of our business, and that is exactly what Google has just done.

    Someone, anyone, please tell me how this wont be potentially harmful to some web site on the Internet? This app should be banned.

    • Gab Goldenberg

      Precisely my problem with SideWiki.

  • Jesse Friedman

    This is a going to be like the nuclear bomb of browser add-ons. One of those things that everyone’s going to have, probably test it out and use it once in a while and most of us are going to wish we could un-invent it.

    Reputation management is a growing concern as the ubiquitis internet gets smaller and more close knit via social media. Larger corporations can usually afford the staff to manage the onslaught of responses. The upside is that we’re giving customers/consumers a voice. A way to express the problems with a company/product and hopefully make them/it better. Small businesses however are going to struggle a great deal with this.

    I’m going to venture that this tool is going to become a weapon and breed negativity instead of being used as a constructive tool. Companies are going to be slammed, products will be cruicified, websites will be picked apart for flaws.

    The only people will really make valuable contributions are going to be pushed aside by the strength of angry and upset users.

    Not to mention do we really need one more thing to do before we launch a new site. Now we have to comment on the wiki?

    Let’s just hope this thing doesn’t do well.

    • Gab Goldenberg

      Exactly: Why burden website owners with another thing to be concerned of? You’d think the problem of hijacked and merged listings in Google Maps would make this issue foreseeable enough…

  • David Teicher @Aerocles

    Hey Gab – Brilliant. I also just posted on the potential dangers vs awesomeness of sidewiki – namely the complete and utter invasion of brands, spam, and marketeering into every corner of the social web vs facilitating the evolution of the internet to a new level of information exchange.

    I Can’t Tell You How Excited I Am To See Google Sidewiki’s Potential Actualized. Unfortunately, As Marketers Have Done With Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, (MySpace – Remember Her?) And Every Other Facet of “The Social Web,” Sidewiki provides yet another means for those who just don’t ‘get it’ to exploit the system and barrage us with broadcast, branded, messaging.

    Until now, this usurpation of online communities and the manipulation of our fundamental human desire to generate content and share information has been limited to custom-tailored (if we’re lucky) invasions of specific platforms or desperate attempts at creating their own.

    Sidewiki, has, without a doubt, an enormous potential – one to utterly destroy any limitations or barriers on the “information sharing” currently allowed by the internet. We’re looking at the possible information exchange of exponential proportions. Unfortunately, I have a sneaking suspicion that this will be the tool that unlocks the whole of the internet to the pervasive, abusive tactics of irresponsible marketers.You know the type – the ones who build facebook pages that collect dust and twitter accounts that auto-follow and auto-DM promotional messaging.

    I sincerely hope that Google has developed, within it’s algorithm, protection from this parasitism but I fear that these individuals, for all their irresponsibility, have one talent, namely, circumventing those protocols. Take a look at this video – What stops me from using sidewiki to just hop from site to page to blog, highlighting portions of text and promising readers further explanation, only to lead them elsewhere – a deceptive practice that seems to be aligned today’s spammy zeitgeist.

    What do you think? Are you more excited for the evolution of the social web potentially facilitated by Sidewiki? Are you confident that Google has taken the necessary precautions to keep spammers from hijacking this tool and isn’t about to provide unlimited access to anyone who wants to litter your website digital post-it notes, maliciously intended, or otherwise?

    If this is web 3.0 – I’m scared.

    • Gab Goldenberg

      I think that spammers working for the Russian mob will find another use for their botnets (legions of computers they control via trojan horses). Namely, generating Google accounts (or using existing ones) to run around commenting on competing sites and linking to their own ecommerce or affiliate projects. I.e. eBay comments linking out to Bidz. And then the other accounts can prop up those comments with a flood of votes.

  • Doc

    Great piece, Gab! Duncan is definitely spot on with his graffiti analogy!
    I am a webmaster, and I am very concerned about this. Now, any competitor has the ability to burn one of my clients, and there’s not a think we can do about it. In order to even try to have the ability to respond to negative rep, we’re forced to do endless laps in the G-pool once again, or our comments won’t even be published!
    This smacks of the WOT, but without the ability to respond, without becoming an acolyte.

  • emmanuel

    Very powerful tool indeed. Wondering how internet users will use it towards brands… Will we see Google sidewiki bombing in the near future?

    You can also access all wiki entries without downloading it just by site searching using Chrome. All wiki entries are accessible and sorted out by Google profiles:

  • John Schwartz

    I realize the need to discuss/debate this, and I side with those who think it’s yet another attempt to control too much by Google. However, if you want to keep your business neck-and-neck with (or ahead of) your competition, you better play ball on this one. It’s probably going to very quickly take off and become hugely viral. Let the freakin’ games begin. Sigh.

  • Steve

    It sounds like you’ll have to participate or die trying. It is going to be a spam nightmare and marketers will find out how to use it and make big money at the expense of others. At some point, Google is going to be the recipient of a big, fat class action lawsuit brought about by businesses that have been unnecessarily harmed by the G side wiki. One can only hope. I love many things that Google has done, but this has the potential to be a first class nightmare for anyone with a website, or 10. The idea they can basically just let anyone with a G account add content to your site without permission or desire is almost too incredible to believe.

  • John

    Let’s be straight about this, Google is serving unwanted and unmanageable comments on my site using a piece of crappy scumware. I’d be surprised if it wasn’t completely consistent with Google’s long held strategy of grabbing as much content as it can without having to pay for or even honour the author’s rights, e.g. Google Book search. They do this because at heart they are a massive advertising agency, and they need more ‘real estate’ to serve more ads against. How long before adwords appear on SideWiki?

    Don’t be evil? Don’t make me laugh.

    • Gab Goldenberg

      Brilliant analysis there John. Didn’t even consider that angle. Google would respond, “We’re not evil. We wouldn’t do that. [6 months on] Oh shit, we have to add AdWords to support the costs of SideWiki.” Now everyone’s part of the Adsense network!

  • James Stein

    Some of us are fed up with google trying to control the entire web and now our own websites. As a developer of over 15 years, I have had enough and I am fixing to release a solution that does not require javascript and hash numbers.

    Once released it will be updated and improved upon as much is needed.

    It is time to fight back and protect our rights …


  • Will Fastie

    I think Sidewiki is okay if and only if Google does the following:

    1. Verifies the identity of every poster and requires that all posts use the person’s real name. Reason: Anonymous posters are much more likely to slander and if a site owner attempts to sue, Google ends up being the target if they can’t identify the slanderer.

    2. Provides a Web-based mechanism outside the Google Toolbar that allows site owners to view the entire content of the Sidewiki. Reason: I think Google is on thin legal ice if negative comments are posted but the only way they can be seen is with the installation of Google-provided software. That sounds like a protection racket.

    So what my idea boils down to is Google making sure I can see what it has enabled others to do to me and letting me see my accuser face-to-face.

    Seriously, opt-out or opt-in is required. If Google doesn’t offer one of those, Google will no longer be our friend.

  • John

    I for one am seriously opposed to Googles sidewiki, for the main reason that my web visitors pay to use my service. Sidewiki provides a platform that could potentially allow them to completely bypass this payment system.

  • Ben

    Google has finally turned against the very people that put them on the map. Google you are not changing the internet for the better, you are changing the internet for your own agenda. We need to contact our government and put a stop to this! I’m seeing a lot of legality issues here.

  • jersey

    very powerful,

  • jersey

    very powerful,