So thanks to Google, I will once again start hearing from my reputation management clients. They’ll all want to know about the ramifications of Google’s new Sidewiki for their online reputation.
My response? Don’t sweat it.
If you’re not familiar, I’ll give you a quick overview of Google Sidewiki. It’s a Google Toolbar add-on that lets you view user comments–ranked by Google for importance–for any web page you happen to visit. It looks something like this:
If you need more details, then Danny Sullivan burned the midnight oil to dissect every aspect of it. But really, there’s not much more to it than what I’ve summarized above.
OK, back to the reputation aspects of Sidewiki. Here’s why I’m not sweating it.
1. It’s brand spanking new! Even if it’s wildly successful, we’re talking months (maybe a year or more) before it becomes widespread enough to effect the reputation of any company. Sure, items will show up, but actually impact your online reputation–that’s a different matter.
2. It’s not web based. In order to use Sidewiki, you have to have both the new Google Toolbar, and agree to share data back-and-forth with Google. When I speak with regular consumers, hardly any of them have the Google Toolbar installed. It’s mostly us marketers and hardcore internet users that use the toolbar. In addition, when a regular user is asked to share their info with Google–it’s an opt-in process–I suspect most users will be scared off by the thought of sharing their data with Big Brother.
3. It’s selective. That one customer that has it in for you, because you promised 1-day shipping and it arrived after 2-days? Well, when he creates a new Google account and heads over to Sidewiki to try and cause you grief, he’ll likely not show up in the comments. Google will use an algorithm to determine which comments are shown and that algo includes the sophistication of the language, the reputation of the comment (did others find it valuable) and the trust in the user’s Google profile–so if it’s a new profile with just one comment, it won’t likely be displayed.
4. Not all pages are included. If Danny’s correct, then a page will need a lot of high-quality comments before the searcher is even presented with Sidewiki. Just a couple of random rants by users with a poor Google reputation score, will not likely trigger a comment box.
5. You get first crack! If you’re the owner of the web page, you can leave a comment in Sidewiki and Google will make sure that is the first comment displayed–ahead of all others!
6. It may never take off. Here’s why I tell a lot of clients to simply "wait and see." If we freaked out over every thing Google launched, we’d all be nervous wrecks! Fortunately, not everything Google launches is a success. Remember freaking out that Google Knol would dominate the search results? It didn’t. Did you panic when Google News allowed comments? Yeah, those are dead now. So, let’s wait and see what happens with Sidewiki. I suspect it will have very little impact on reputable sites that find themselves with just one or two skeletons in their closet. Those that might be concerned are the companies that are flat out scams–and I don’t work with those guys anyway!
Sure, Google Sidewiki has the potential to become a reputation headache, but a lot of stars would have to align for that to happen. Let’s all keep an eye on it, but if you’re really worried about your Google reputation, I’d start with what shows in the main search index.