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 …

Conclusion

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.