28 September 2009

Sidewiki, to be or not to be

    One important fact I failed to remark in the research for the previous post was that Google's initiative in not singular, a first attempt in the world of “commenting systems” was made in 2001 by Third Voice though it had to discontinue its services only after 2 years [3]. More recent similar but almost anonym initiatives are Blerp, Reframe it or You Sticker, and now Google‘s Sidewiki joined the club! Why would Google succeed where other companies failed? What Google has and other companies don't have? First of all Google is established as brand, has credibility, human and financial resources, the infrastructure and processing power its predecessor and competitors didn't had. As also [2] remarks "None so far has been backed by a company that could reach the critical mass needed to make the program a success". Secondly, Google doesn't depend only on one project and it has many other initiatives focusing on Web 2.0, having the capacity to evolve the tool and in time integrate it with other products. Actually Sidewiki commenting system is based on Google profiles, the posted comments appearing in users’ profile and by choice also in the owned blogs. Third Google offers an API which I hope can be easily integrated in third party tools and used for data mining such content. Above all Google has accumulated lot of experience in the sphere of Web technologies, is one of the pioneers and architects of Web x.0 and it has the potential to succeed where other failed.

    Even if Third Voice gathered a couple hundred thousand users, according to [3] it succumbed under the menace of a powerful coalition formed by 400 independent Web hosts. Another reason for its weakness what the fact that it "couldn't generate enough advertising revenue to raise consumers' awareness of its free service, and it couldn't generate enough consumer awareness to raise the advertising revenue it needed to stay in business" [3], a chain of weakness isn’t it? Often for small companies it's not so easy to reach the potential customers or manage advertising own products enough, and that can be seen especially in case of startups. Even if the message reached the customers, it’s difficult to stir their interest and gain their trust. How do I know that the tool I download does only what is supposed to do?! Sometimes I am reluctant to install a tool on my computer because I haven't heard of it or/and the supporting website doesn't inspire any credibility or by being too vague in describing the functionality doesn't encourages me in a significant manner to download the tool.

    As in the case of Third Voice, the number of early adopters is not always sufficient in order to make a tool survive the early adoption difficulties. Moreover, many new technologies in order to survive need a market prepared to accept them, and this seems to be one of the most important barriers. Even there was a need in the market and the intents were noble, the “Web graffiti”, as Third Voice “sticky notes” were named by its opponents [3], didn’t make it. Philosophies behind technologies look nice on paper though they might perish in the touch world of the Internet. Is it a different situation for Sidewiki? Even if the number of its opponents is not to neglect, I tend to believe that the nowadays conjuncture is beneficial, the transition toward a read-write Web is helped by a change in mentality at micro and macro level. There are still barriers to overcome raised especially from people’s confusion concerning what the read-write Web is about. People or in general content publishers feel they are loosing the control over their own content, and that’s one of the cases against such “commenting systems”. Is it really so?! Sidewiki is installed by choice by those interested in commenting and reading others' comments; it’s isolated from publisher's content the only links being the integrated display and the reference to the source. Content creators are not loosing the control over their content and websites but about the comments made at their address, and that’s quite a pain, however as Mike Koss nicely puts it in an answer to J.A. Seidl’s posting, “just as a publishers "owns" their content, readers have a right to "own" their feedback and comments” [1].

    Many argue that such comments will have a negative impact on the quality of the content, that the discussions might take two distinct flows on the sites having already built-in commenting functionality; in the end is at users' latitude which one of them they want to use. I would expect that most of the users are interested in receiving feedback on what they wrote, either from the publisher or from other users, and thus the built-in functionality would more likely be used. On the other side, some sites make it difficult to include comments for example by having a poor interface or the well known annoying captchas.

    We sometimes have too great expectations and forget that each technology and initiative needs time to catch ground and maturity. Maybe we see too easy the flaws and neglect the potential. It will be interesting to watch the degree Google will use such comments, either for simple categorization of pages, consolidating user profiles or for complex web data mining. By projecting users' comments in the space created by the commented content can be established a backbone on which the content was built (e.g. words/concepts with higher relevance) fact which can help better categorize web pages but also identify users' sphere of interests and even determine their competency in a certain area. Could be thus established more "accurate" and "detailed" users profiles, and derived increased "profitability" by reducing the number of anonymous posts. Some people might argue that we don't need a tool like Sidewiki to post comments on or about sites, same can be obtained with other tools too, of course, there is always the freedom of choice. I find Sidewiki having greater potential than the tools I arrived to know.

    There will be many content creators (publishers), users and communities against Sidewiki, resuming to solid or childish grounds, with an expected plus for the later. In the end what it counts is the number of adopters, number that might increase with the degree of credibility the tool obtains in time. Sometimes is needed a big stone in order to create a meaningful wave, Goggle launched it, let's see how far it goes!

[1] FASeild. (2009). Google Sidewiki: Do [No?] Evil. [Online] Available from: http://faseidl.com/public/item/241498 (Accessed: 28 September 2009)
[2] GHacks. (2009). Google Sidewiki. [Online] Available from: http://www.ghacks.net/2009/09/25/google-sidewiki/(Accessed: 28 September 2009)
[3] Wired. (2001). Third Voice Trails Off... [Online] Available from: http://www.wired.com/techbiz/media/news/2001/04/42803 (Accessed: 28 September 2009)

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