Posted September 23, 2009 11:10 am by with 18 comments

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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! 🙂

So chillax!

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.

  • Terrie Bittner

    Ahh, but you’re talking about one disgruntled commenter. I have a religious website, and there are organized groups who search the web for places to spread hatrid and misinformation about my faith. They can post so often, carefully organizing high quality ratings, that they will show up on my sites. While I’m presenting gentle, no-pressure information about my faith to those looking for the truth, not hate gossip, they can be on the sidelines destroying the atmosphere and mood I’ve worked hard to create. It appears right there, as if it were part of my site, so it’s like adding a comments area I can’t control. Maybe it’s not an issue for business, but for many of us, this is not good at all. I resent their intrusion into my content and it needs an opt-out clause. They can do this on their own sites, but why should I be expected to tolerate letting them do it on mine?

    • That would be unfortunate, but Google will let you comment on Google properties, so at least they are being consistent.

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  • sidewiki should be banned

    This will be a nightmare for website owners. It means that all of there efforts to direct traffic to their website will end up directing traffic to sidewiki posts. Competing website owners and businesses will be able to post sidewiki comments which direct viewers to their website and businesses, thereby using the popularity of other sites to drive traffic to their sites. I won’t get info specifics of what can be done, because I don’t want to give people ideas. Sidewiki amounts to cyber graffiti to the extreme, one which website owners can never remove. Sidewiki should be banned. It will also be a huge money maker for Google since they control the sidewiki content as the dominant search engine and since they control the data about web searches, which will enable them to get free content associated with every website.

  • Sounds like it’s something to keep track of until it either takes off or flops. I think as long as it has a solid clever algorithm behind it that doesn’t display spam and single comments/rants from those who aren’t genuinely commenting then it’ll be okay for genuine individuals and businesses.
    .-= Luci´s last blog ..Top 5 SEO Songs on YouTube =-.

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  • I wouldn’t sweat sidewiki too much just yet. Like most Google products, it will probably just be a distraction to search.

  • In my opinion this is something that people in our field of reputation management really need to keep a close eye on. Like others have said Google is distracting from what search is really all about and instead are wanting to start going to almost a Digg like model where they try to keep you still connected to their website no matter what website you are on.

    The worst part of all of this is that spammers will be using this tool to drive traffic away from websites or competitors will use this to write false negative reviews. The false reviews and information is what I think will be the largest problem as I really can’t see customers purchasing from a website where their sidebar wiki says it is a fraud or works terrible. This is why I have been using Bing more lately as not only the search is better but I can find what I am looking for quickly and not have to put up with Google monopolization.
    .-= Brennan´s last blog ..How To Remove Your Home From Google Street View =-.

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  • I agree that this isn’t too much of a problem if it doesn’t take off.

    But let’s say it does take off. And let’s say that spammers want it to take off and really start to push it. Once they figure it out, Google Profiles will be created for the purpose of building up trust and then using them to direct clicks off popular sites.

    I guess I’m having a hard time seeing the real value for users and especially webmasters, and I’m easily seeing the value to spammers and haters.

    This move surprises me. If it takes off, it has real potential to be a major headache for internet professionals.
    .-= Wemasters and marketers watch out´s last blog ..Time for WordPress theme standards? =-.

  • Your post is very reasonable, and your conclusions – while they may be proved wrong – definitely show there’s less cause for worry than some think.

    I do think you’re raising a larger question about online reputation implicitly: how exactly do we deal with branding in a medium where people are encouraged to speak their mind – no matter how little their mind contains – about others?

    I think generally people online need to toughen up, get a thicker skin: just because one guy or even a group of people don’t get what you’re about, or even goes to the length of saying bad stuff about you is no cause for worry. There’s another principle, too, though, and some on the Internet know it but many don’t: it really helps everyone if people are forgiving in this age of incessant media. Yeah, there are hundreds and thousands of opportunities for all of us online to be misinterpreted or even indict ourselves: I know I’ve said stuff online I regret. There’s this criterion of being almost squeaky clean for professional purposes that is almost completely unrealistic, and while I think standards should be high, I suspect that old media and older marketing methods are actually driving a moralism online that makes it harder to do business and network here.
    .-= ashok´s last blog ..On Socrates, Dancing and Philosophy: Xenophon, Symposium II 15-20 =-.

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  • Huston, there is a problem: I quote Andy “but if you’re really worried about your Google reputation, I’d start with what shows in the main search index.”

    The thing is that the Sidewiki comments end up as Tweats, Facebook entries and blog feeds. These do end up in the main index, and pretty quickly too.

    And with Google’s shift to ranking well what’s hot and new, these Sidewiki comments that get converted to other social media and blog posts will be right there on page one.

    I believe Sidewiki is a concern for online reputation management. I hope I’m wrong, but I guess time will tell.

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  • What is it takes off and everyone decide to jump in?

    Knol was a big flop, I wonder why they even launched it. It is rotting now.

    What if they decide to make it public by taking it off from the toolbar and launcing some sort of a trusted reviews portal?
    .-= Ajay Kumar Singh´s last blog ..Bing goes Bingo!!! =-.

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  • If you want to avoid rambling conversation and banter you can now install a sidewiki blocker. It will sandbox the comments so when the next person arrives it looks like there are no comments in the box. It won’t get rid of them – but it will keep visitors focused on your content instead of looking for what everyone else is saying on the side. (just do a search for swiki blocker)

    I have already seen blogs that are not getting the benefits of comments left directly on them – but left in the sidewiki where you can not edit what someone has said. Aside from buying SSL (doesn’t work with sidewiki) or coding your site to not work with the toolbar (will cause loss of traffic) the blocker is probably the best solution at this time.

    I hope you are right and this doesn’t take off, but unfortunately G has applied for the trademark already meaning they are planning to carry on.
    .-= Jill Carpenter´s last blog ..Sidewiki – Three Ways to Block it from your Website =-.

  • Hi,

    Where is the opt-in to share information that users can use to block Sidewiki? I am aware of the info sharing opt-in for Google Analytics, but am under the impression that it applies only to GA.

    Could you kindly link us to it?

    Thanks for the informative post.

    Best regards.
    .-= Bengo´s last blog ..Lil Nyet 338 | Negotiation =-.