24 September 2009

Sidewiki, new Google tool for Web 2.0

    On Wednesday Google launched Sidewiki, a browser sidebar tool coming as part of Google Toolbars and installable on Firefox2+, Internet Explorer6+ and soon on Google Chrome. What’s great about Sidewiki?! It allows adding comments to the whole content or sections of a Web Page, all content posted in this manner being public and thus seen by other people. It is thus possible to add annotations to Web Pages, share thoughts and ideas, criticize or encourage, categorize content, etc. It’s also a way of saying I’ve been here, (didn’t) liked that, here are my 2 cents, my extraordinary philosophy obtained sitting in front of the TV, etc. Because of that Google avoided to show the messages in the order they were entered but, according to their presentation, they are “using an algorithm that promotes the most useful, high-quality entries".

    I totally like the idea! I've been actually waiting for this! I consider it as a step forward toward collaborative content creation, of allowing users to create more structured metadata (e.g. Knowledge Maps, concept clouds) for Web Pages outside of the functionality provided by their creators. In addition, it is thus build a new network structure on top of existing Web graph, structure from which users and creators could have something to win. I’d expect more functionality can be built on top of Sidewiki’s API and hopefully Google will add to it more functionality – for example I’d like to manage the content I’ve commented, allow me to categorize content or simply select passages I really liked without adding any comments, and store the content in the Google repository or exporting it on the local computer, together with additional metadata about source (references to the source should be a must). Talking about categorization of content, if it's not possible to select phrases because of copywrite contention, then it would be great if I could select words that were meaningful for me and further use them in creating Knowledge Maps, in tool itself or by exporting/importing them in third party tools.

    The news has been taken over by bloggers, pros and cons being more or less professionally advocated. Jeff Jarvis in BuzzMachine seems to see the new feature as a danger because “is trying to take interactivity away from the source and centralize it”, resulting a conflict between Goggle’s tool and Web Page’s built-in functionality, the lost of ownership over owns’ content. I’d say that he sees the negative side of the story and I can’t say he’s wrong though that’s one of the risks content creators assumed once they made the content available publicly online. Their work might be “ruined”, but not entirely, there is a potentiality for growth in information’s richness and maybe quality residing in the exchange of ideas. On the other side users don’t know how to handle too much freedom, stupid comments and ads are waiting at the corner. Probably the content creators should have a say in all this, at least by weighting negatively such posts if not by deleting the content. I observed there is a way to report abuse, though I wonder how much is really working, how much content creators and users are really willing to use it?! It is true that Google enforces Sidewiki Program Policies, though nothing seems to stop the spammers.

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