Who’s side(wiki) are they on?

Google have now released something they’ve been beta-testing for a while – SideWiki is a commenting system built into the latest incarnation of the Google Toolbar. Basically what is does is shows a sidebar in your browser where it lists any comments that anyone makes about your site. Systems designed to do this sort of thing have been tried before but never by anyone with the marketing power of Google before.

It’s not entirely clear why they think this is a good idea – in the face of initial criticism the attempted defence by Matt Cutts that you can use it to warn people off a spam or scraper site is perhaps the weakest pronouncement he’s ever come up with – but if it does take off then an awful lot of webmasters are going to be very unhappy about it.

Basically it presents content that you, as a webmaster, are not in control of to users of your site, and there has to be something fundamentally wrong about that. If someone wants to criticise my site on their site then that’s their right (as long as they don’t cross the line into libellous areas). If they want to criticise using my own commenting system then I have some control over that and can reply to their comments. But to present content as part of the experience of visiting my site, without my permission and with no means of me responding or complaining is simply hijacking. There could be links to competitors sites, there could be spam, there could be adverts, there could be objectionable material such as racist comments. The average user simply won’t understand that this material is not mine and as always mud will stick.

Sorry Google, you have got this horribly horribly wrong. I hope it falls flat on its face the way the earlier systems did, or that you reconsider and withdraw it.

For the sake of the web in general – which you yourselves described as a cesspit – it’s an open door to the worst kind of spam and dirty practice.

For the sake of all the genuinely ethical small web businesses who already have far more to do than they can handle to keep themselves going in the face of spammers and scrapers.

And actually for the reputation of Google itself, because this will be a massive PR blunder in which you are seen to be setting yourself up as the supreme ruler of the internet and doing something which is directly against the interests of the people who build and maintain websites.

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