Google Sidewiki: I totally had this idea years ago.

Google SideWiki brings comments from users right to your browser.

Google Sidewiki brings comments from users right to your browser.

For those of you not completely glued to Google Labs or RSS updates from Google, there’s a new feature of Google Toolbar that’s found its way to Firefox and Internet Explorer browsers: Google Sidewiki.

Google Sidewiki puts everyone’s opinion or insights about a page right there with you on a site.  (To be honest, I’m pretty sure Google found some way to read my mind from 10 years ago and decided to implement the idea that I had, but I digress.)

Google Sidewiki can be used by visitors and site administrators alike.  If you’re the (verified) site owner, you can leave comments that are sticky at the top of the Sidewiki, which is very useful for getting feedback about your site, or prompting a conversation about your site.  However, if you have a blog or some feature that allows feedback on a specific article, it might be best if you promote that and let the user leave comments on that specific article, so the comments don’t get lost in the Sidewiki.  You can get a lot of great hints and feedback that will help better your site.  If a certain feature of your site is acting up, people would be more likely to leave a note in the Sidewiki as opposed to filling out the contact form just to let you know that something’s not working.  Any way that users can interact with your site will help you get return visitors.  So keep peoples’ Sidewiki comments in your mind when you make updates to your site.

To get the Google Toolbar (and in turn, have access to the SideWiki) you simply go to the Google Toolbar page and click the conveniently large “Install Google Toolbar” button.  Once it’s installed and you restart your browser, you can log in to your Google account and gain access to not only Sidewiki, but GMail, Your Google Bookmarks, and access to Google Translate.  Being a Mac/Safari nerd at home has made me miss Google Toolbar, but there’s a good chance I might sway to Firefox on my home computer with the release of Google Sidewiki.

Let’s Talk About How Awesome It Is!

I’ve always been a fan of reader interaction on webpages, whether it be posting on a forum, a chat room, or blog comments (*ahem*); however, those systems typically require a user to signup and can do so with a completely anonymous username.  With Sidewiki, you use your Google ID to leave comments on the side of webpages.  Google also gives users the ability to rate if a comment is useful or not, and if the comment is just spam, you can report it as abuse and Google will take action.  This is definitely a necessary feature because as we all know, spammers are out there trying to get their links to Russian Mail-Order Brides to as many people as possible.

I also really like how you can also make a comment specifically about one section on the page.  If there’s a certain paragraph or headline that I want to make a comment about, I can just pop open the Sidewiki, highlight the text that I wanted to comment on, and start typing my soliloquy about how Chewbacca is the greatest movie character ever.  It’s a pretty cool idea, but I am not sure how it will work when people make a comment on a news article on the front page of a site.  Once it gets moved to an archive, the comment won’t follow it, unless Google’s figured out some magical way to make the comment hook into the permalink of the page.  And if they’ve done that, then I’ll be completely flabbergasted.

Sidewiki also gives the ability for a verified webmaster (through Google Webmaster Tools) to post a comment and keep it pinned at the top of the sidebar.  I think it’s definitely a great idea for being able to welcome someone to your site and maybe ask for specific feedback on a certain element of the page.  Now, I may be biased because I have an affinity for all things Google, but this is definitely a step towards Google Wave which looks like it’s going to be the future of the Internet.

Relevance on Dynamic Content?

The main drawback I see to SideWiki is that there’s a big potential for an enormous amount of comments on a few popular pages which will dilute the usefulness after a while.  If there are some consistently “useful” comments on a page, and then the content of the page changes, those comments will no longer be relative but will still hog the top spots on the Sidewiki preventing the now relative comments from reaching the top.

What You Can Do To Help

As I always do, I recommend all of you check out Google Sidewiki.  It’s always fun to be an early adopter of some new technology and play around with it before it gets super bloated.  But most of all, you might have some awesome insights about a page or article that no one has thought of before, and you can be the one to bring it to the world.  So download that toolbar, sign in, and start sharing your opinions with all of the other users out there!