Google Sidewiki: Brandjacking? or the Future? (w/ Bonus Content)

This post was originally published on Todd Defren’s blog, PR-Squared- Todd is Principal at SHIFT Communications, my employer

One of the latest shiny objects, Google’s Sidewiki, intrigues me as a communications professional. Sidewiki, as Google says, lets you “contribute helpful information to any Web page.” Here’s a 1-minute video that describes the concept:

One thing about Sidewiki you must know right away: you can only see the messages posted if you have Sidewiki installed on your browser. That’s an obstacle, but given that it will become part of the ubiquitous Google Toolbar, we can assume Google will eventually create a worthwhile user base. Otherwise, it’s a ghost world that exists on another plane…

What I saw as I explored this Sidewicki universe? Some great comments — some on pages that don’t allow them. It’s an “overlay” of comments: perhaps you would like to say something about McDonald’s or Nike, right on their site? Now you can do it.

As I write this, a cursory look at the sites for some major brands reveals no commentary — yet. There will have to be that critical mass of users before Sidewiki has any real impact.

Then there is the opposite effect: sites that already have their own communities and conversations (blogs and the like). Jeff Jarvis pointed out the problem as he sees it: Google is trying to co-opt the conversation that he feels he should own. As far as blog owners and community folks go, I agree. It’s hard enough to follow commentary about your content on places such as Facebook and Twitter, without a goliath like Google actively creating an “alternate universe” for you to keep tabs on.

Furthermore, as Bryan Person acknowledges, this presents a conversation appearing alongside a brand’s own sites that they have no editorial control over. I doubt Google is being malicious — this is not, as I see it, a case of “brand-jacking” — but, they will have to address the people calling for a “Sidewiki blocker” for sites that do not want this alternate conversation woven into a parallel network.

As for companies that already do a good job of monitoring brand chatter — they are accustomed to keeping an eye on numerous other channels. They have likely built up a base of goodwill among users that could ensure that only “good things” come from Sidewicki. While Google’s new toy offers unique issues for some, for these others it’s simply another in an endless stream of places they have to watch — and engage.

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BONUS CONTENT- In my original draft of this post, I likened my anticipation of seeing the heretofore invisible Sidewiki conversations to the revelation awaiting Rowdy Roddy Piper as he prepared to don the mysterious sunglasses in the 1988 science fiction film “They Live.” Todd may have edited this out to avoid the impression I was saying Google was allied with aliens trying to take over the world, but I suspect it had more to do with his obsessive hatred of Piper (I guess he’s a Superfly Snuka fan).

Whatever the reason, the segment is restored here:

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