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Google Turning the Web Into an Exclusive Social Network?

Launches Sidewiki for the Google Toolbar

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Search guru Danny Sullivan got an early scoop on a new Google Product that wasn’t supposed to be announced until later today. Its called the Sidewiki, and is a feature of the Google Toolbar. What it does is allow users to comment on any page on the web. These comments can only be viewed by others who have the toolbar/sidewiki installed.

When using Sidewiki, an expandable window can be viewed on the left-hand side of the webpage. When expanded, you can see the comments that have been written or contribute your own.

Google says that it uses "multiple signals" based on the "quality of the entry," what they know about the author, and other user-contributed signals like voting and flagging. They say they want to only keep the most relevant entries appearing in the sidebar. Sullivan says Google gave him a few other factors:

- Use of sophisticated language
- User’s reputation
- User’s history

Google recommends commenters contribute expert insight, helpful tips, background information, and added perspective.

Your Google Profile evidently plays a direct role in whether or not your comments appear. Google ranks profiles in a PageRank-like manor, so the higher you profile is ranked, the more likely your comments are able to appear. "Unfortunately, you have no way of knowing your ProfileRank," says Sullivan.

I’ve discussed numerous times in the past about how Google is becoming one giant social network of sorts, and this seems to indicate that it is on some levels even an exclusive social network. Anyone can participate, but it sounds like you have to be somebody to get in.

Google Turning the Web Into an Exclusive Social Network?
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  • http://www.caninekidneydisease.org Phillip Ed

    Strict screening may be required to stop spamming.

  • Haiden

    So we’re just supposed to “trust” that Google is being unbiased when they rank authors? How do you know that you are actually getting unbiased information. It sounds great at first, but the more you think about it, the more you have to wonder if it will become another form of censorship. Especially if it gained traction and people actually gave real consideration to the reviews/posts.

    I think if you’re going to create a system like this, then you MUST let people know what the ranking system is based on.

  • Donald

    Shouldn’t Google devise a way to allow all users to decide for themselves whose comments they would like to read? Why should I be limited to Google’s opinion?

  • http://dowitcherdesigns.com Amber Wallace

    This technology was tried before by a few startups, but never really took off. But of course they didn’t have the funding or reach of Google — the fact that this will be on Google’s already widely distributed tool bar is huge! We’ll have to see how people use it.

    The spam vs censorship issue is really a huge debate, and something I think Google and the rest of us will all have to wrestle with. If there is no spam protection the tool will become worthless quickly, as none of us will want to wade through garbage to get to real comments. But that doesn’t mean these need to be censored, either… it’s going to be tricky.

    • http://www.myceliumholdings.com Sam

      It seems to me, knowing Google’s expertise at scanning content for spam, relevance and other factors, that the ranking system will be quite effective at blocking spam and abusive or irrational comments, leaving reasoned commentary at the top.

      This sounds like an awesome tool for users. It could create virtual picket lines around unscrupulous sellers or fraudulent information providers, while allowing satisfied visitors to stand outside the store, in effect, and tell people it’s a good place to shop.

      I can’t wait to try it.

  • Doc

    I think the “ranking” of contributors will call into question the impartiality of the published comments. And keeping the criteria of their ranking scale hidden, just adds fuel to the fire. At least Google make a pretense of transparency in the algorithms they use to rank our webpages. It seems they’ve decided that no pretense is required here.
    As a result, I doubt they’ll see a swarm of expert contributors, beating a path to the G-Door.

  • harry

    Couple of things; Google seems to be getting too big for its britches. This is going to create haves and have nots, big time. Or otherwise, those with credentials must be screened almost like employees. And then it means, those people are being chosen for what looks like a good fit with Google, which is not to say it fits the rest of us. So, potentially very slanted view on things. And right, if you just make it more or less free for all, it loses credibility and turns worthless.

    I for one, do hope that they’ll just dropkick this one.

    harry

  • http://www.mknz.com mknz.com

    This is a can of worms that shouldn’t be opened. There are too many factors to have to deal with and the fact that google can bestow some sort of title such as ‘most relevant’ is laughable. Way too many sites out there. This is going to be a mess. Who’s to say a competitor of mine wouldn’t be the ‘expert’ for our field? Does this mean I need to drop everything and ‘earn’ my ‘cred’ with Google to ensure that doesn’t happen? Can I as a webmaster opt out of it? If so, I probably will for me and my clients.

    • http://www.presentation-skills.biz Presentation Skills

      Totally agree that this is a can of worms! How on earth is Google going to be able to police the types of comments left?

      At least on eBay comments do come from people who have actually purchased a product. But with this new functionality I can see people whose only reason for commenting is to try and undermine a competitor’s business services or products in the hope that they then benefit in some way.

      Anyway … must go off now and check it out!

      Mike
      presentation-skills.biz

  • http://www.iamindisposed.com Wolfy

    Yeah,

    I don’t have any interest in this if i don’t know and trust the sources. I don’t care if google vets them with their magic googly awesomeness.

    -M

    • http://www.linkedin.com/in/martinwilliamh Martin

      Interesting comment. There is an app called GetGlue that does something similar to Sidewiki. With the exception that you get to see what YOUR friends say.

      It’s all part of the evolution of Social Media (see The 5 eras of the by Social Web by Jeremiah Owyang). Things are evolving away from destination sites to being embedded in all you do – you can see more examples of that with Facebook buying Friend Feed and creating Facebook Connect.

  • http://tactikool.net Spookerton

    – many, many, many, many, many times before.

    Off the top of my head, WOT (web of trust), supplies a firefox addon that does -exactly- this, except it provides an inbuilt ranking system that users contribute to in order to determine the safety and quality of sites visited without needing to read said users comments to sift for info. Something that does -exactly- what the google tool is intended to do is Netopi.

    As well as large-scale examples like so, there are also innumerable social addons available like Kutano and Amplify that don’t use their own backends for communication, simply providing a specialised interface to, say, twitter or facebook comms to allow discussions on websites between friends; or in kutano’s case, to all tweets relating to the site you’re looking at.

    The examples I’ve listed are only firefox addons, and fall inside the first 8 pages of a single category of addons. And I skipped a few over as well, because I’m not exactly trying to write an article here. There’s so much out there that already does this, or better; at least, versus the first version or so of the google tool.

    All google will be bringing to the scene is market penetration; although I’m not saying that’s bad by any means. Peer commentary doesn’t work if it’s only on a few tens of thousands of websites :)

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