Sidewiki: The Web is my social network

Google tool opens up new side of browsing

Google has recently released a new feature for those who have the Google Toolbar installed. It’s called Sidewiki. Using this new feature, visitors can leave comments about your site in a sidebar (the Sidewiki).

For example, someone looking for real estate information in your area is able to leave a comment in Sidewiki detailing what they think of your site and how it works. This sort of thing has been done in the past, but none of the past versions were done by a company with the clout of Google.

Overall, this brings up a few interesting thoughts. Sure, Google bills its ability to allow users to add "helpful information" to Web sites "right in your browser."

Call me paranoid, but I bet there’s going to be some less-than-helpful use of this feature — spam being the most obvious one. The system uses a thumbs-up/thumbs-down comment rating system to bring better-rated comments to the top of Sidewiki.

Similar systems (Digg being an obvious example) have been prone to marketing/spam abuse so it will be interesting to see how Google handles the spam.

Regardless of how you feel about other people leaving comments on your Web site, Google has released this tool — so it’s better to determine how we can use it than trying to fight it (there is no opt-out). There are two places where you’re going to want to use this tool: on your site and on everyone else’s sites.

Google Sidewiki on your site

Sidewiki lets the site owner always have the top slot, before all of the other commenters. So the first thing you’ll want to do is claim your site. Here’s how:

Install Google Webmaster Tools. You’ve already done this I hope, but just in case.

Install the Google Toolbar.

Sign in to the Google Toolbar (the little button on the far right of the Toolbar) using the same account you use for your Google Webmaster Tools.

Go to your Web site.

Click on the wrench icon and enable Sidewiki.

Turn on Sidewiki for your page (the button is in the middle of the toolbar). …CONTINUED

The Sidewiki will pop out from the left and you should see a notice that gives you the option to write the top entry.

Something sort of fun you can do is add YouTube video. Ever wanted to give someone a video tour of how to get the most from your site? Now’s your chance. (At least for people who have installed Google Toolbar.)

On your own site: Go claim it and put some content in the Sidewiki. Bonus points: Look at your analytics reports for most popular pages and most popular landing pages (the first page visitors see) and put content in the Sidewiki for those pages as well.

Google Sidewiki on everyone else’s site

It may be tempting to go to all of your competitors’ sites and let them know what you really think. Probably not a great idea. But you may want to consider going to sites that attract visitors you might be able to help, and leaving some useful feedback. This is just like when you leave comments on other blogs hoping for some traffic to your site: You’ll likely do much better by actually being helpful than by leaving a "Great article, come visit my Web site" kind of comment.

Here’s a list of some pages you might want to look for where you should be able to leave something of value (note that the site doesn’t have to already allow/facilitate comments for you to leave a comment in the Sidewiki):

  • Local media site articles about real estate (newspapers, television, whatever)
  • National media stories about your market area
  • Blog articles about your market area
  • Homebuying resource guides

Will it be worth it?

The short answer is: I have no idea. The long answer is: We can test it. Be sure to use a campaign tag for any links you leave behind in the Sidewiki. I recommend using whatever you already use for your general blog commenting, but set the medium to "Sidewiki" instead of "blog-comment." In this way you’ll be able to measure and segment any Sidewiki traffic and answer for yourself if it’s worth it to leave comments on other Web sites.

Another thing to consider and watch: Will any of this Sidewiki content relate in any way to search-engine optimization efforts? The tool is too new to tell, and given Google’s existing policy on comments and other user-generated content, my guess is that it won’t have much to do with search ranking. But I’ll definitely be watching and experimenting with it. I encourage you to do the same.

And a minor aside from a geek: Yes, the Sidewiki is improperly named a "wiki" because the comments themselves are not open for editing by anyone. Sidewiki is not a wiki — it’s a rated comments system.

Gahlord Dewald is the president and janitor of Thoughtfaucet, a strategic creative services company in Burlington, Vt. He’s a frequent speaker on applying analytics and data to creative marketing endeavors.

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