Sidewiki’s Ups and Downs

On Wednesday, Google launched Sidewiki, a new comment subprogram.  Using Sidewiki, users of Google Toolbar can post comment and discussion to any Web page they are drawn to.  The comments appear in a sidebar column. Intimate

The release has sparked conflict, between those who view Sidewiki as a potentially valuable tool, and those who view it as Google reducing the value of web site content by, in essence, “outsourcing” comments to Google’s domain.  Whatever the opinion, there is the additional caution of the perhaps-unmanageable hassle Google may endure in monitoring and administrating such a vast network.

The Downside of Sidewiki

Among Sidewiki’s detractors is Jeff Jarvis, who wrote the Google-phile how-to book “What Would Google Do?”  He recently took a jab at his beloved Google by saying they are trying to “take interactivity from the source and centralize it.”  In simple terms, he is blaming Google for betraying the purpose of blogs, and other sites that thrive on comment traffic, by taking the comments from the website and placing them in a separate place – where the site’s owner can’t moderate them.

Jarvis has dire predictions for Google, saying the company will have its hands full moderating the stream of comments coming in from thousands, if not millions, of directions.  It will be no small task policing and deleting hateful or degrading comment traffic on topics from Obama and Israel to libel and pornography.

The Comment Dilemma

The warning against comment traffic disappearing from blogs and similar sites is largely moot.  Services such as Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed, and similar social networks have already played a huge role in sidelining comment traffic.  An overwhelming number of comments never appear on the blog site, having fallen victim to link-sharing and other commenting forums.  Sidewiki, rather than starting a distressing problem, is simply adding more ripples to an already-turbulent pool.

Policing Sidewiki

The diffusion of comment placement aside, Jarvis raises a valid concern for what Google may be facing.  Against the risk of hatemongering and spamming, Google has apparently developed a specialized algorithm to monitor comment quality.  They will also appeal to Google users to vote on comments, passing or vetoing them in a manner similar to the way the search engine tested last year for the quality of its search results.

To their credit, Google has stated they are aware of the concerns and are committed that Sidewiki commenting not get out of control.  The program policy they have developed clearly lays out its guidelines regarding hate speech, spam, copyrighted copy, malware, and explicitly sexual content.

There remains the concern, however, of how the search giant really expects to be able to monitor the volume of traffic Sidewiki is likely to generate.  One ingenious hacker or coding whiz would be all that is necessary to flood Sidewiki with smut, phishing scams, and all manner of mischief.  Google has done well in the past at keeping their Web presence clean, but how long can their vigilance last?  Time alone will tell whether Google has made a positive contribution to our Web resources, or whether Sidewiki will be cast into the vast Internet recycling bin.

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