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Internet users have started to use Google's new Sidewiki feature to abuse brands on their own websites:

  • Microsoft is described as "useless" and "crap" on Microsoft.com
  • Apple is slammed at apple.com for lying and shipping products with "severe bugs"
  • The Daily Mail's home page is labelled as "sad toss"

Google's sidewiki is a new feature of its toolbar that lets you "publish helpful information about any web page right in your browser". Once someone has written an entry about a page, other users can "read insights in context from Sidewiki entries added by others".

Sidewiki: a way to graffiti websites?

The functionality is fairly simple - if you have the Google toolbar, you can slide the Sidewiki panel open and closed, and then see (or add to) what has been written about the individual page you're looking at.

My first thought about this was that brands are going to have kittens, it's the equivalent of allowing people to graffiti their sites. That was also my second, third and fourth thought. And having had a look at a couple of high-profile sites, I imagine it will go on being my fifth and sixth thought.

Apple's Sidewiki: liars

The top Sidewiki entry on the Apple page is a long diatribe saying:

"Apple lied to the FCC regarding blocking Google Voice apps on the iPod Touch and iPhone. ... There is currently a list of severe bugs in the ipodTouch 3.1.1 OS which have not been resolved or even acknowledged by Apple ...

"Snow Leopard shipped with anti-virus and anti-malware software and also a copy of Flash with a known vulnerability ..."

Remember, this is what Google toolbar users see on Apple's homepage within their browser window.

Microsoft's Sidewiki: crap

Microsoft also has a rude entry (first published here).

"One of the most useless websites I have ever visited.. Has been consistantly crap since I first started using the Internet.. Its just overly bloated without any real direction.."

This person has forgotten that Sidewiki reveals their profile details, which shows where they work, so it looks like an employee of Carphone Warehouse is attacking Microsoft.

Daily Mail's Sidewiki" toss

I'm sure the Guardian isn't responsible for this abuse on the Daily Mail homepage, but the newspaper's site contains a Sidewiki entry with a link to one of their competitors(source):

"Why?? would you read this sad toss? Don't you have more important things to do? Seriously.. you'll find better/proper news here: http://www.guardian.co.uk"

Scottish Football Museum: advert

The Scottish Football Museum has a Sidewiki that Google uses as an example in its documentation.

The Sidewiki entry, featured by Google and written by a Lonely Planet journalist, finishes:

"For more great things to see & do in Glasgow, go to www.lonelyplanet.com."

So, is Google saying it's OK for Lonely Planet journalists to leave what are essentially adverts on other people's sites?

Dealing with abuse

According to SearchEngineLand, Google has ways to deal with abuse:

"using multiple signals based on the quality of the entry, what we [Google] know about the author, and user-contributed signals such as voting and flagging, we work hard to ensure that only the highest quality, most relevant entries appear in the sidebar. Most of the engineering work for Sidewiki was dedicated to this ranking algorithm."

So Google's looking for sophisticated entry construction (paragraphs etc) plus the reputation of the individual user (you need a Google account to post) and so on to determine the order of comments. it would seem to have a way to go at this point from these examples ...


Sidewiki is obviously new. The only comment at Yahoo is "Am i the first person to add a Sidewiki to Yahoo.co.uk?".

Maybe when there are more comments, abuse and pointless comments will become rarer. But for now, Sidewiki looks like becoming another headache for brands, if it takes off.


Published 24 September, 2009 by Malcolm Coles

Malcolm Coles is Director at Digital Sparkle and a contributor to Econsultancy. He also blogs at malcolmcoles.co.uk. You can follow him on Twitter here.

16 more posts from this author

Comments (16)

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Malcolm Coles, Director at Digital Sparkle

The Apple rant above has now been voted down by other sidewiki-ers, so is no longer the first thing you see at the Apple store.

At the Mail, however, 7 people have voted the comment as useful so that's going to be there for some time I imagine ...

about 7 years ago

Sophie Erhard

Sophie Erhard, Web Marketing Consultant at 123 en ligne

I wonder how Brand Reputation tool tracks this kind of comment?...

And how to react to negative comments: burry them with new comments and / or reply on the page if the comments have some consistency?

It may be a good thing to read Google content policy. They provide a "Report Abuse" button within Sidewiki (but I don't find it...).

about 7 years ago


Corinna Witt - e-commcere consultant

On the bright side, serious Sidewiki comments could also be seen as a chance for marketers getting direct feedback from their customers without having to carry out expensive polling or testing. My concern would still be competitors abusing the tool, though.

about 7 years ago



Yay! Finally Google has done something that will bring a legitimate class action lawsuit against them :)

When you mess with people's money, bad things happen.

about 7 years ago



All the brands are just going to sue Google for putting up content (and ads if it lasts that long) on *their* sites, for which I personally can't wait. That or google gives webmasters an option to pot out at which point everyone will and this thing will just die.

about 7 years ago


John Bashinski

It's really funny to watch people like you get upset about things like this.

Big hint, folks: you have no right to control MY experience when viewing your site in MY browser. You don't own MY screen, and something I choose to have displayed alongside your site on MY screen is no legitimate concern of yours.

You have no right to control MY impression of your brand. I am not an ownable profit stream; you have no right to continued custom from me, nor do you have any right to "shield" me from anything that might lead me to choose not to do business with you in the future.

You have no right to decide with whom I communicate about your brand, what means I use to communicate, what I or they chose to say, or to what degree I or they choose to believe what the other says. If I'm in a good mood, I'll grant you a right to compensation for outright libel, proven in a court of law... but only if I'm in a good mood, since I don't have any realistic chance of personal compensation for any lies you decide to tell.

There are problems with SideWiki. Those problems are that you can't use it without giving Google access to your entire clickstream, that Google represents a single point of failure and a single attack point for the system, and that the system is subject to Google's ideas of what's appropriate to post. The things you guys are complaining about are the positive aspects.

about 7 years ago


Mike Smith

Big hint, folks: you have no right to control MY experience when viewing your site in MY browser. You don't own MY screen, and something I choose to have displayed alongside your site on MY screen is no legitimate concern of yours.

Oh I see... so YOUR property is YOUR property, but MY property is not MINE? Nice double standard you have going there.

about 7 years ago


Peter Smith

And then there is the element of censorship that I set out to research. Took aim at the nastiest lier on the internet - a site that advertises its 'service' but steals billions - the IRS!

Went to www.irs.gov and posted a (hopefully) well written but slightly facecious article that would help people search out opposing views.

Then I held my breath - - not too long, two days later that post was gone without a trace. No down-voting, no up-voting - just gone.

In other words, this new feature of Google, who does no evil, seems to be useless.


about 7 years ago


Artur Król

Mike, who's attacking your property?

Noone is adding anything to your website as such. What is being added is an upgrade to the browser, which allows people to find and post site-specyfic comments.

Which is simply a more useful version of what is long in use in, for example, websites which collect people's comments on the restaurants they have visited.

about 7 years ago



See this link and then rethink what the hell you are saying about sidewiki.

Open your damn eyes.


about 7 years ago



"a," all I see in that forum are a bunch of ham-fisted arguments centered around the same antiquated concept of "website as physical property."

The pro-Sidewiki argument that the site owner has no rightful control over how the reader chooses to view that website is a powerful and winning argument. 

To dumb it down a notch: I'm on the sidewalk looking at your property through my rose colored glasses. You can certainly suggest, but you ultimately have no say how I choose look at that property. You have no right to say what browser toolbar or greasemonkey or adblock extension I use. It happens in my browser when I tell it to and not on your site. Period.

If you do not want me looking at your site through my glasses (my enhanced/modified browser), you shouldn't have your site in a public place. When you publish the content, you allow me to use it in a manner useful to myself in my browser. Yes you work hard to give a suggested presentation - and it's certainly appreciated. but I choose to view it my way.

At least now it is being presented in context when I choose to open the sidebar next to the site. You guys need to quit looking for what's wrong and actually give it a shot. Vote up good comments, vote down bad ones, and report abusive stuff. As a site owner, I can leave a welcome message which supersedes any other comments.

about 7 years ago



When email was first introduced everyone was thrilled. Universities and research institutes could communicate freely, and collaborate in their research.

Then a handful of people figured there's money in there, and so email spam was born.

When blogs were introduced, the winning point over existing regular sites wasn't the ease their content could be managed. There were content management systems before. No, the winning point was the ability for visitors to comment freely, to actively contribute to what was said in the posts.

It wasn't long until some figured there's money in this too, and so blog comment spam tools have spread.

Now Google is introducing a new technology, that at first sight is nothing more than another social media to express your thoughts. Think Twitter, or Facebook.

But there's one big difference...

Even if from a technical point of view the comments are on Google servers, because of the way the technology is implemented any visitor actually sees them right on your site, as they arrive there.

Malcom showed this too well in this article.

And... I know for a fact that this very moment I am typing this comment there are shady marketers out there that have picked on the opportunity.

They are already teaching their students how to use Google's SideWiki to leave spammy comments on high traffic sites, to syphon some of that traffic away. Yes, really.

Just like with email and blog comment spam, it won't be long before people will acknowledge there's abuse in this system. Some are smart enough to see it now, some will realize later when comment spam will hit their own sites.

For email we have anti-spam software developed. For blogs, we have a moderation queue, where the blog owner has to approve a comment before it's shown.

For SideWiki comments, we only have the power of the "community", and hope the people that vote a comment down is large enough compared to those that vote it up. Or, watch your sites like a hawk, hoping to catch the nasty comments and click on "Spam" before too many can see it.

I'm pretty sure the above commenters that said there's no problem in SideWiki right now don't have any kind of personal website or business site on the Internet, or they'd be looking at both sides of the coin, none of which are terribly appealing right now.

The SideWiki system definitely has some potential, but it's current implementation severely lacks on the control it gives to webmasters.

Until Google will implement an opt-out or comment moderation queue, or even a notification system to let webmasters know a comment has been left at one of their pages, I've created a software that can prevent visitors from seeing SideWiki comments left at any site.

If that's something that might interest you, take a look at http://www.swikiblocker.com

You, as a visitor have every right to install any kind of tool, or software you wish on your computer.

But at the same time, webmasters and web business owners also have every right to choose what information is displayed to their visitors.

about 7 years ago



Catalin, instead of fueling the flames to self promote your software, try actually using the product first. Based upon your comments you clearly haven't and have low credibility taking the position you have; feeding into FUD to achieve notoriety and distribute your software. I have yet to visit a page where sidewiki shows me content without clicking a button to see it. 

Your last paragraph is stated incorrectly as well and proves no point. Your right to choose what to publish was never in dispute, nor is it currently. Your right to choose *how* it's displayed in my browser *is*.

about 7 years ago



artv -- You may have the right to choose to view my website in your browser as you see fit, but I have the right to choose to show you my site in the first place. It's still copyrighted content, and I can licence the viewing of that content however I like.

If I decide to make my site restrict sidewiki, you can like it or lump it. I don't need vandals or as users anyway.

about 7 years ago


Brian R

I surely understand why many webmasters don't like SideWiki and fear that competitors will use it to add comments to your site that will be as helpful as the comments that graffiti artists add to bathroom walls.

You should monitor the SideWiki comments on your own site(s) closely and act promptly on negative comments. There are now tools available that can monitor SideWiki comments for you, and alert you when new comments are posted.


about 7 years ago


Gregory Kohs

Readers may be interested in this discussion where Google admits they've deployed a "secret sauce" to suppress certain varieties of Sidewiki speech: http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Toolbar/thread?tid=160d3f27a115959b&hl=en

almost 7 years ago

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