Google's SideWiki – Interview Notes

Finance & Commerce writer Arundhati Parmar has just published What will Google’s Sidewiki mean for online businesses?. I sent my thoughts about Google’s SideWiki to Arundhati for this piece but as luck would have it, I emailed my thoughts too late for inclusion in the story.

In addition to Parmar’s excellent story, here are my thoughts:

I paraphrase Parmar’s question: Google SideWiki has a potential for abuse and little upside for businesses because it depends on people being reasonable, rational and honest online. Do you agree?

Yes and no. There is certainly potential for abuse but Google is putting in place some measures to try and keep it from becoming a cesspool of negativity. They say they have a ranking algorithm that promotes quality comments and demotes poor quality comments. Google has an algorithm that examines the sophistication of the language used within comments so, presumably, a well-articulated comment has more weight than a “brand X sucks!” type of comment. Google also allows others to vote thumbs-up or thumbs-down on comments so over time, certain commenters will presumably earn a reputation from a larger community. Lastly, you comments are reflected on your Google profile, so if you have your real identity on your Google profile, there will personal ramifications for your negativity.

Page owners can also claim their sites through Google Webmaster and add their own comment(s) to their site that will remain as the top comment, so it will be the first comment people will see within Google Sidewiki. This at least gives site owners a chance to address any subsequent criticism.

If, on the whole, comments are generally positive there’s a big upside to that for businesses because those comments serve as real-world, third-party endorsements. The obvious downside is your very own web site being accompanied by a bunch of negative comments. Another downside, however, is the need now to monitor your own site(s) for Sidewiki comments.

The bottom line, though, is benefits Google more than it does anyone because the data they collect through Sidewiki helps them better understand any given page on which comments are left, which allows them to return more precise search results and that drives click-throughs for Google Adwords. But Sidewiki begs the question of whether or not Google should be able to essentially enable drive-by virtual graffiti on sites they don’t own.

Paraphrasing Parmar: Is enlisting people to post entries and vote up comments on your behalf so that those comments stack up high on the Sidewiki frame gaming the system?

I don’t know that it’s necessarily gaming the system if you’re not telling people what to say. People ask for testimonials all the time and this really is not that much different. People who are truly enthusiastic about their praise tend to convey that enthusiasm genuinely online and, conversely, people who are praising at the behest of someone else, tend to convey that insincerity as well.

In my experience, people who are being unreasonable with their criticism online tend to either demonstrate that they’re unreasonable and/or get called out by the community for being unreasonable.

If people have a legitimate complaint or issue with a company, then this is an opportunity for a company to find out about it, address it, and demonstrate publicly their commitment to their customers and their responsiveness by dealing with it through Sidewiki. Those who observe that process will likely give the company credit for it.

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