Google provoked another content ownership debate on Wednesday when it launched Sidewiki, a comment system that lets Google Toolbar users discuss any Web page in a browser's sidebar. The main point of contention is that Sidewiki is basically taking away comments--and therefore value--from Web site content and putting it in Google's own domain.
The reaction to that argument, though, has been a universal, "are you kidding me?" Sidewiki is getting a lot of attention right now, and it could be a popular tool. Then again, the new commenting system might turn out to be one big headache for Google.
Jeff Jarvis, Google fanatic and author of "What Would Google Do?", is leading the anti-Sidewiki charge by saying Google is trying to "take interactivity away from the source and centralize it." In other words, Google is destroying the whole point of a blog by taking comments off the Web page and placing them beyond the control of the Web site owner. Jarvis also warns Google that it may now have to deal with deleting a large number of comments that are particularly venomous or hateful. As examples of problem topics Jarvis points to the heated debates over healthcare, Obama, and Israel.
Where Would Google Comment?
But who are we kidding? Internet discussions have been fractured for years. Forget about Sidewiki, what about sharing links and commenting on Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed, or any other social network? It's been a long time since content owners have been able to concentrate discussion on one Web site or network. Sidewiki is just one more offshoot on an already fractured landscape.
Beyond Jarvis' concerns about comment placement, he does raise a good point about potential pitfalls from Google's standpoint. The search giant has supposedly developed a "quality algorithm" to filter spam, rants, and other problematic comments. Google will also rely on user ratings to vote a particular comment up or down, similar to a feature the company started testing for its search results last year.
Google has made it clear they don't want comments to get out of hand within Sidewiki. The company has set up a Sidewiki program policy that prohibits from posting spam, malware, hate speech, copyrighted material, or links to sexually explicit material.
But if Sidewiki lets you comment on any Web page out there, will Google really be able to monitor every post made on their system? The company has been relatively effective at keeping unwanted content off its Web sites in the past--pornography on YouTube for example. But all it takes is one 4chan-sized prank for Sidewiki to be overloaded with all kinds of links to phishing scams, porn, spam, and other nasty parts of the online world.
What do you think? Will Sidewiki become a trash heap along the side of the information superhighway, or has Google delivered another popular innovation?