Google Sidewiki interesting, but real utility unclear

Google Sidewiki logoGoogle has launched a new service called Sidewiki that allows users to post annotations on individual webpages. It's more like a comment system, however, because users can't edit content posted by other users.

Google has launched a new service called Sidewiki that allows users to associate additional information or commentary with any webpage. It was launched today following an official announcement at the Google Blog.

Sidewiki is integrated into Google Toolbar and uses a popout sidebar interface to display page notes. When the user loads a page that has annotations, a thin blue strip will show up along the page's left edge. The user can expand the strip to display the sidebar, which will show a list of annotations and messages. In some cases, it will also show excerpts of articles about the topic displayed in the page.

Google Sidewiki

Google attempts to show the annotations in order of relevance and also provides a mechanism that allows users to vote on the usefulness of individual items. A small "Share" menu can be used to obtain a direct link to an individual annotation or to share it on various social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.

To write an annotation, you have to first sign in with your Google account and then click the "Write an entry" link at the bottom of the sidebar. Each annotation consists of a block of text and an optional title. When the user finishes filling out the form, they click the "Publish" button to post the annotation. It's also possible to associate an annotation with an individual snippet of text selected on the page. Google says that annotations that are tied to text will appear on all pages that share the original content.

The name "Sidewiki" is somewhat misleading because the service lacks several of the core characteristics that are usually associated with wikis. Although you can edit your own annotations, you cannot edit annotations posted by others. Unlike a real wiki, where multiple contributors attempt to integrate their material into a cohesive narrative, the content in Sidewiki looks more like a comment thread where each contribution is a separate discrete post.

It's unclear if the service will really deliver a lot of value. After surfing around the Internet with it for a short while and looking at the annotations that have already been posted on popular websites, I have yet to see any that are really useful or substantive. It appears as though most users don't even really know what to post yet. The quality of the content could increase as use of the service becomes more widespread.

Sidewiki is currently available in a special test version of Google Toolbar, but Google is planning to roll it out soon to all Toolbar users. It could also eventually be integrated into Google's Chrome Web browser through an extension. Coupling it with Google's software will help to make it visible to a relatively large audience of users. There are also APIs that enable third-party developers to integrate Sidewiki capabilities into their own applications and services.

This new offering from Google is intriguing in some ways and it shows that the company is thinking creatively about how to build dialog and additional value around existing content. The scope and utility of the service seems a bit narrow. The random nature of the existing annotations suggest that the quality and depth of the user-contributed content will be roughly equivalent with the comments that people post about pages at aggregation sites like Digg and Reddit.

What makes Wikipedia content useful is the ability of editors to delete the crap and restructure the existing material to provide something of value. Without the ability to do that with Sidewiki, it's really little more than a glorified comment system and probably should have been built as such. As it stands, I think that most users will just be confused about what kind annotations they should post.

Source: ars technica

Tags: Google+

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