Google Sidewiki: it’s probably not going to change the world

Since its launch earlier this year, Google’s Sidewiki has resulted in some warning those in PR of the new ways it lets corporate reputation be damaged.

Here is how PR Week reported the issue in October:

PR professionals this week warned of fresh hurdles to managing corporate brand reputation following the launch of a new Google application. Companies are facing up to a new social media challenge after Google unveiled its Sidewiki technology. The application enables members of the public to write comments directly next to a brand’s website.

It certainly is possible that Sidewiki will have a big impact. But there are many reasons for scepticism about this.

First, just because it is a tool from Google that doesn’t mean it will be a big success. Google has repeatedly launched products that have flopped. Indeed, not that long ago it added the ability for people to post up comments on its search results which, in a way similar to Sidewiki, lets the public put their own views right next to the official content from a corporation. But it’s a feature that has not taken off. The roll out of Sidewiki is far more a reflection of the failure of the previous attempt than it is a bold new departure.

Second, Google Sidewiki has now been around for a few months and it is showing little sign of taking off. It can take a long time before a new product or service reaches breakthrough, but there is usually some signs of potential in the early days. However, after the initial burst of chatter after its unveiling, online buzz about the product has fallen away.

Third, the tool requires you to have the Google Toolbar or special bookmarklet and then to click an extra button when viewing a site in order to see the comments people have made. That’s not a huge obstacle, but it means people have to explicitly make the effort to decide to want to use the tool. In other words, for most people the world is still ticking on normally as if it had never been invented.

Fourth, examples of Google Sidewiki comments having an impact are notably absent. After several months, we still don’t have even the one cliched example that everyone quotes.

All in all, the tool is struggling to make an impact.

(Note: post updated after Malcolm Coles kindly pointed out that a piece of Google data I quoted was being wrongly calculated by Google.)

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