The Internet grew another layer of interactivity this week, as Google announced the beta version of Sidewiki, a browser add-on that lets you comment and share information on a sidebar applied to any page on the Web, like this:
(Click to enlarge)
For people who are hungry for more ways to share content, expertise, and comments in a more collaborative way — even on Web 1.0 sites — this is great news. For organizations that try to dictate their online brand from the boardroom, and stifle public criticism, this is very bad news indeed.
Personally, I love a good unmoderated thread. I try to encourage our clients to stop being afraid of criticism or mockery, and instead use it as real-time market research to help fine-tune their brand. Sure, you can yank comments that are truly inappropriate (racism, etc.) or nuke the trolls after the fact. (I'm looking your way, Pat!) But it doesn't actually hurt you if someone has their say in the vicinity of your own content.
As well, according to PC World, there is some automated quality control built into Sidewiki with a "quality algorithm" that puts the most useful posts at the top of the sidebar. (We'll see how well that works.)
Most people will be unaware of the conversations at first, because you have to add the app to your browser (get it here) before you can see the posts. But there are bound to be some pretty interesting stories around Sidewiki over the next few weeks, as big brands come to terms with 4Chan-like comments beside their carefully-worded, trademarked and copyrighted content. But there's no reason to be afraid. These things have a way of playing themselves out.