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Is Google Sidewiki Evil?

A couple of thoughts about Google's new sidewiki.

There are already a lot of webmasters, advertising professionals, and business owners who are asking — actually demanding — an opt-out mechanism to block sidewiki from your site.

Now, Google points out two things:
  • A webmaster can claim the first spot, the first comment that is shown on a page.

    Google Sidewiki
    Google sidewiki allows webmasters to claim the first comment

  • They will algorithmically solve abuse problems.

  • But you cannot opt-out.

Okay,let's see.

I follow the example which Google gives in their help pages and check their own webmaster's entry on their toolbar blog.

Google Sidewiki on homepage
Page owner's comment on sidewiki

Looks good, and the lesson on the side is, you can use a lot of vertical space and push the third party comments off the page so that users need to click next.

But that's all, no more good from here.
  • I'm not sure if I can edit this webmaster's comment any time I want, later. Can I delete it once created?

  • The Google account under which the site is registered with webmaster central is not the account I wish to use for this purpose.

    Think like a corporation for a second or even a small to medium sized business could run into this problem. Most likely it's not the IT guy's job to write this kind of content. And it definitely needs to be updated on a regular basis. It's like ad space) But whose Google account is used. And it's always linked to Google profile by the way.

    Honestly, I don't even want my Google account which I use for Analytics, AdSense, Adwords, Webmaster Tools to have a public profil. Call me security paranoid. This is okay. I simply don't want it. What can Google offer me instead.

  • It gets even worse. Look at the screenshot below.

    Google Sidewiki on deep page
    … a blog post

    Where is the webmaster's comment?

    Either I have to write one for each page individually or the one I write does only appear on the homepage. Very bad. Imagine you have a site with lots of traffic, lots of comments on sidewiki (like Seth Godin got some nasty feedback that way). What are you gonna do. Hire someone who joins the conversation and does damage control?

A lot of flaws, too many for my taste.

Improving Sidewiki - My Proposal

From a usability standpoint of view and as a marketer I propose the following changes. I admit you cannot stop people talking about you. And in most cases it's a good thing, but we know that a few “bad people” can do more harm than you might think at first.

  • Allow complete opt-out and disabling of sidewalk for your site. Important: without having to pay a fee!

  • Some additional options for displaying a webmaster's comment on deep pages without having to write one for each individual page.

  • Being able to configure a individual, different Google accounts for being in charge of maintaining those site webmaster comments.

  • A feature that I can monitor all comments for my site easily. I won't traverse my entire site every day to check if someone left a comment on sidewiki.

As a user I already turned sidewalk off. Honestly, I am not so interested in this chatter/jabber. And I am not sure about it's SEO value so far. It's just another time thieve, right now.

The Truth

It is true that you cannot stop people talking about you or your business on other websites like Twitter, Facebook, Squidoo. But do you have to tolerate this on your own website?

Copywriter Paul Myers goes more into detail (↑) of that aspect and has written an excellent rant about the potential negative side-effects of sidewiki. He writes about some positive ones too, but the positives one are not scary, …

Paul Myers actually points out the scenario where you pay Google for the traffic to your site, and a sneaky not so ehtical affiliate marketer steals it and you have to pay him commision on top of what you paid Google already. Well, it really can get nasty.

Let me know what you think. Retweet, share this post and have a good day.

John W. Furst

P.S.: Update: I think in this case not even modifying the robots.txt file to keep out Google would help, since they don't need to crawl your site in order to make this toolbar trick work.

P.P.S.: I have seen some dumb attempts to block sidewiki, like:
  • Configuring the web server for not serving the content to users who have the toolbar installed. Instead redirecting them to a page which explains that they should disable the toolbar and reload the page. Come on, nice try but how many visitors will follow you?

  • Messing up the URL with some JavaScript magic somehow that sidewiki get's confused and cannot handle your site anymore.

    Well, chances are that this causes a lot of confusion among users, Google's and other search engines indexes, … in short that breaks your site AND is already confirmed that it does not work with Wordpress.


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This post was mentioned on Reddit by marvin566: The topic is controversial. This author thinks Google might be evil or sidewiki is at least bad implemented.


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Jodi Kaplan on :


I agree, John. If someone wants to comment on my blog, that's fine. If they're nasty or start a flame war, I have tools to manage that. But just write random comments on my Web site? No. I want a free opt-out!

John W. Furst on :


We are not the only ones thinking that way. I am curious about what will happen.

Smokey on :


I cannot understand why google is using our websites to let people comment on our websites. Second, I had to remove the google toolbar to get rid of the message about sidewiki. Who do they think they are, MS? Forcing stuff on us is so 2000 and late.

Bet you can't tell which responses here came from Goo gle employees.

Maybe people could use 4 letter expletives on each sidewiki that doesn't have website permission, and the FCC will get involved.

Martin Koss (Google SideWiki on Facebook) on :


It seems to me that the more I read the more people I find that simply do not approve - and that includes me.

I want control of feedback on my website and any blog owner wants to decide whether to allow comments and - ultimately - we should all be in complete control of any content that is on or associated with our pages.

I could rant on all day about Google SnideWiki but...

AV on :


What a shallow premise. Is Email evil? Is the Internet evil? Is Free speech evil? As many free speech advocates have pointed out many many many times before. Sidewiki comments are not ON YOUR SITE. You came to the Google Toolbar forum to spew your recycled argument (and promote your blog entry) but you didn't RTFT. You said nothing new that hadn't been effectively debated away.

They're cleverly placed in a sidebar in context to your site when the *user chooses to open the sidebar*. Stop with all the broken, incorrect metaphors about Google allowing people to write on your property.

At worst metaphorical approach in your panic frenzied favor; users need special glasses to see the invisible ink. More accurately however; - users on the public sidewalk get pinged by their Geo-locating iphone when they're at property for which there are Sidewiki comments. No visible signs, banners, ink or anything for anyone not wanting to see it. Other users can't see it unless they have an iphone with this app. Property owners can't see it without the iphone or special tool. Exact same premise, except slicker.

Soon, we'll have futuristic eyewear and contact lenses which project data onto what you're looking at. You can be sure the same principle will be applied to that technology too. Will brick and mortar merchants have the same self righteous outrage against that as well? Exact same principle.. Again. I'm rambling a bit but I hope you're following me.

BTW, you can create multiple Webmaster accounts for a given domain. The validation metatag is a one time affair and individual from each account you set up. Second, you can edit /delete the page owner entries to your heart's content. That only leaves one (of your three) detractions, which I admit should be improved as well. But your reasons are exponentially decreased now.

Opt out is a ridiculous concept. Opt out of what? People talking about your business in a third-party venue? No thanks. I publish content along with the rest of you, but I love my life as an information consumer as well. Way too many pro's to this service. Google needs to step up their sidewiki good use cases is the problem.

John W. Furst on :


Thanks for your long comment! I keep my response short!

(*) By the way, I am not hiding behind a hotmail email adress.

You basically wanna be anonymous. No blog URL? OK.

(*) Google asked for feedback.

I posted my opinion. Obviously others share a similar opinion. My – this – blog post, which I have promoted in hat Google Help Forum is perfectly on topic and adds value to my comment.

You don't see it that way. Fine.

(*) The metaphor "we" use is correct. It's not about what it is, but about what users perceive. Sylvie Fortin mentioned that in here article as well. I do some usability research. You wouldn't believe what people who use a computer and the Web even professionally on a daily basis know and don't know. It's mind blowing. New surprises everyday. Sidewiki absolutely appears to be part of the website.

Just look in the navigation bar. What URL do you see?

Talk about any company, politician, TV show, ... but on a different site.

Many companies and marketers are already embedding live social media stream on their sites.

But it's their choice not someone else's.

As market leader, and de-facto monopolist, Google is under special scrutiny by regulators.

It's a severe conflict of interest towards its advertising clients -- paying as well as not paying clients. I even think Google could be made liable for damages regarding natural "free" search as well. Certainly for paid search.

(*) Thanks for your tips with the webmaster tools. I figured that out today as well. But as you agree with me, besides the legal, philosophic, ethical aspect, the implementation itself is not convincing so far.

(*) You are right opt-out is ridiculous, it should be opt-in. My prediction: It will bomb.

P.S.: I am writing abother blog post right now. Stay tuned.

Brian R on :


Site owners should really pay attention to what is written about their sites on SideWiki.

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