Google launched Sidewiki last week.  The rest of the web is already scrambling to figure out if they ve just been served a digital friend or foe.  Private property laws prevent people from walking into a home, store or company lobby and begin loudly proclaiming their views.  While the internet has domain laws, specifically managing that sort of infringement is best done by controls in place that screen who gets to enter and be seen in forums and comment sections.  Sidewiki may have changed that.

Sidewiki is an application that runs in Google Toolbar on both Internet Explorer and Firefox.  When launched, it opens up a browser sidebar where people can post and read comments about the web page that’s open in the main browser.  The comments are visible to everyone.  They can also be fed into social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter as well as syndicated through RSS.  Technically the only one monitoring what gets posted and how it gets listed is Google and the algorithm that they developed for Sidewiki.  The algorithm takes into account variables such as feedback from other users on posted comments and previous entries made by the same author to determine the quality of comments and list them accordingly.  The feature is designed to filter out the extremes, but the definition of what s extreme isn t controlled by the web operator.  Google does give web site owners one very important administrative control: the ability to claim their web site Sidewiki.  By doing so, they can ensure that what they post is always at the top of the list.  Still there are already blogs appearing on how to manipulate the algorithm, and as expected the movement already has its first terminology: Sidewiki bombing .

Google uses language that goes beyond slick marketing verbiage to describe their new app.  It reads as if designed to communicate Sidewiki and its creation as an inspiration rooted in benevolence.  “What if everyone, from a local expert to a renowned doctor, had an easy way of sharing their insights with you about any page on the web?” Google asks.  The answers so far have been mixed.  Some of the strongest arguments against Sidewiki aren’t coming from expected sources, such as brands accustomed to consumer onslaught.  That worry undoubtedly exists, considering one of the first Sidewiki crises showed up on when posts appeared exposing what it really costs Apple to make an iPhone.  For now content providers seem to be the most worried about it, and for bottom line reasons.  As Businessweek describes it, Google is taking away value from web site content by taking the comments sections and putting it in their own domain.  The UK Telegraph’s Andrew Keen concurs, calling the threat in Sidewiki replacing their comments section as eventually drawing ad revenue away from the site.  Keen uses strong language, accusing Google of eating his salary and titling his piece Google s colonial sideswipe.

From a marketer’s standpoint, there seems to be a broad sense of experimenting and taking into account that it s a powerful tool before passing judgment.  Daniel Flamburg takes that tone in his piece for iMedia Connection.  By digging into the tech and its administrative functions for web operators, he thinks marketers will uncover ways to turn it into yet another social media tool influencing their brand’s presence on the web.  The first big step is claiming your Sidewiki using Google’s Webmaster tools.  (He links to a help page on the process here).

Flamburg also predicts that Google’s strategy may be to eventually allow web site operators more control over content and the way opinions are ranked.  Of-course that wouldn’t be free.  Flamburg also guesses Google may even try to sell you space on your own Sidewiki.

Read his article at iMedia Connection {link no longer active}.