Ever wish you could speak your mind on some blog, but the jerk running it has the commenting system turned off? Well Google has good news for you: A new feature coming to the ubiquitous Google Toolbar will add a discussion system to every web page on earth. Just pop open the so-called Sidewiki window, speak your mind, and every other Google Toolbar user in the world will be able to see your thoughts when they access that page and click the “comments” button.
Google is hardly the first company to try such a feature, but it may be the first that’ finds success with it. I remember vividly a similar plan from a company (the name of which is now lost to the web) that let users leave Post-It style notes on any web page they visited, a sort of digital graffiti that let them tag pages, telling the proprietor and others exactly what they thought of the content.
It wasn’t a hit. At the time — circa 2000 — the software faced an immense backlash from observers who felt that the software was devaluing the appearance of the web (at best) and infringed on other people’s copyrights (at worst). Some felt it was the equivalent of picketing in front of a retail store.
Of course, back then we didn’t have the comment culture that we have in the late 2000s. Today, commenting systems are all the rage from blogs to news sites to video portals, and people actively encourage readers to “join the conversation” every chance they get. But that’s likely to generate flack from website operators who already operate their own comment systems. Now they have another company to compete with for comments on their own domain… and that company is Google, no one’s idea of an easy nemesis.
How it will ultimately shake out is anyone’s guess.
There’s good news at least in the way Sidewiki works: Google says it will rank comments for appropriateness, and comments will be linked to Google user names — no anonymous blather allowed.