Tag Archives: for immediate release

Comment creep: will Google Sidewiki explode the conversation?

The For Immediate Release (FIR) Podcast recently covered the release of Google Sidewiki, a browser plugin that allows you to add and share comments on any page on the web. The service comes bundled with the enhanced features of the Google Toolbar (available for Internet Explorer and Firefox, but notably not Google Chrome), allowing you to open a sidebar next to any page to see previous comments and add your own.

Commenting on web pages has become a part of our online lives since being popularized by the growth in blogs and has been adopted by many web publishers for other types of content. Google Sidewiki extends this feature beyond the reach of web publishers, allowing visitors to comment on any page across the web (as long as you have Google Sidewiki installed).For instance, here are the comments on Microsoft Bing, a major Google competitor in the search space:

(See actual page)

This tool raises a number of issues such as comment moderation and ranking (Google says it uses automated scripts and the nebulous measure of authority for this), and the ability of web publishers to control commenting on their pages. However, I’d like to center on one issue that is by no means restricted to Google Sidewiki but is definitely highlighted by this service. That is the issue of comment and feedback proliferation.

Proliferation of commenting systems

As was pointed out in the FIR podcast, there are already a number of ways of sharing comments on content. Let’s highlight some of these:

  • A website’s own commenting system (as ships as standard with most blogging platforms)
  • Social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed, Posterous, etc.
  • Comment networks like Disqus
  • And now browser-based systems like Google Sidewiki

Will Google Sidewiki be the last entrant into this space? Probably not. The upshot is that it becomes increasingly difficult to monitor these conversations and the multiple threads that can roll out of them. These systems are by their very nature distributed and autonomous. If, for instance, a comment thread grows on Google Sidewiki, someone browsing through the Disqus comments on a blog page who doesn’t happen to have Google Toolbar would remain blissfully unaware of this.

The problem has been around for some time on social networks. For instance, there are a number of services that allow you to post to Facebook from Twitter, so your Tweets appear to both audiences. Now if a Tweet that appears on Facebook attracts a number of comments, these aren’t passed back to your Twitter followers. So although your original missives are shared across the networks, the ensuing comments and conversations are not.

No easy solution presents itself, largely due a lack of standards when it comes to this form of communications. Going back to that earlier example, comments on Facebook are a completely different format and can be much longer than a reply on Twitter. Now throwing Google Sidewiki into the equation complicates the situation further, given that this system is browser-based and not strictly web-based.

So whilst Google Sidewiki throws up an enticing proposition (that of being able to comment on any page across the web), it really adds to the growing problem of comment system proliferation. Are we just building ourselves a fresh new Tower of Babel where online streams of conversations grow up in isolation of each other?

More on Google Sidewiki

Install Google Sidewiki
Google Sidewiki and Google Wave integration (VB SEO)
Google Sidewiki vs Brands in Public (Tim Aldiss)
Google Sidewiki explained (Search Newz)

Beware: Brands in Public shows how brandjacking is getting more social

The excellent For Immediate Release (FIR) Podcast recently highlighted the launch of Brands in Public, an interesting project from popular marketing/communications author Seth Godin. Brands in Public sets up social media profile pages for brands with content aggregated from social media content from all the normal suspects across the web (blogs, Twitter, forums, news, etc.) – making it available in one handy location. There is also a section of the page that allows you to comment directly on the brand.

As an example, here’s the homepage for Home Depot:

(see the actual page)

Released last week, the service did draw some ire around the original plan to post pages irrespective of whether or not brand owners consented. In addition, brand owners have to pay Brands in Public $400 a month for the privilege of excercising editorial control (including moderating comments) over their pages. Seth has since relented and Brands in Public is now opt-in.

There has been a lot of discussion around this project primarilly discussing the ethics and what this could mean for brands and their online presence. I’m interested in focussing on one aspect: that of brand ownership.

Brand ownership

One thing Brands in Public highlighted is just how easy it is to set up a page focused on a brand you don’t own and populate it with the wealth of social media content that exists out there.

So brand owners better beware! If these pages are tied together into networks (as Brands in Public has done by tying up with Seth’s already well-placed Squidoo site), they will rank highly for brand searches on Google and the other major search engines. In effect, Brands in Public takes some control of the online brand image away from brand owners.

In terms of the creation of these types of pages, as was pointed out on the FIR podcast, you too could be a Seth Godin and go ahead and use services like Netvibes to mock-up similar pages very quickly with little expense. This raises the issue of brandjacking, something which anyone who was involved in the wild west of domain registration 10 years ago is no doubt aware.

However, in this instance the social aspect introduces a new dimension. If such systems become highly popular, brands can end up in an uncomfortable position and may find themselves having to relent to the crowds.

Brand owners already find themselves dealing with similar issues around brand pages on Wikipedia. The difference in this case is that a collection of social media soundbites has the potential to become much more emotive: the intent of the medium isn’t to be instructional or informative, it’s to display conversation in all its vibrant tone and color. If the crowds dictate they want these village square-like properties that allow them to pillor brands, how far can brands go to limit this, before they are accused of trampling established netiquette? If the conversation around your brand heads southwards, how exactly should you react?

Regardless of the ethics of this, if these types of aggregation pages become more prevalent, companies are going to have to consider this aspect of their web presence and find a way to deal with it. Pleading brandjacking may fall on deaf ears as lack of participation is viewed by your prospects and customers as a sign of defensiveness.

Whlst Brands in Public has brought this issue to the fore, regardless of whether it survives or not, I don’t believe we’ve heard the end of this subject.

More on Brands in Public:

Squidoo Backs Down On ‘Brand Campaign’ As Many Are ‘Not so Happy’ About It (TechCrunch)

Launching Brands in Public (Seth’s Blog)

Squiddo, Brands in Public & the risks of aggregation blackmail (Dan McCarthy)