Google has a new browser add on, Sidewiki, that allows users to comment on any web page. This is not just “on” as in “say something about” but to actually place the comment so that all visitors to the site can view the comment via Sidewiki. Google’s bullet points about this add on is that it will allow users to “publish helpful information” and “read insights in context.”
While the idea is interesting and the goal is noble, I have to wonder if the folks at Google are aware what the web is really like. While there will be some folks who will “publish helpful information”, I suspect many (most) of the commentary will be obscene, spam, hateful or idiotic.
Naturally, some might compare Sidwiki to the comment feature on blogs. After all, people do make meaningful contributions to blogs via comments. This site is a good example-commentators add a great deal and the site would be considerably poorer without them.
While this is a reasonable comparison, there is a critical difference. The comments on this blog, like most blogs, are filtered through a spam filter and they are also subject to removal. That is, I have control over what appears on my site. While I value freedom of speech, I also think that a person (or company) should have control over what appears on her site. After all, it is her site. This does not restrict freedom of expression because, obviously enough, people can get their own sites and comment about other sites until their fingers bleed.
My main concern about Sidewiki is that it will become an online equivalent of spray paint, allowing people to “deface” sites with various obnoxious things. While people do have to consciously chose to use Sidewiki, this merely means that it is like a special sort of spray paint that you need special glasses to see. To continue the analogy, just as property owners have a right to keep people from putting graffiti on their buildings (even graffiti that requires special glasses to see) I think that web site owners should have the right to opt out from Sidewiki.
That said, I do see the potential value in this add on. After all, it turns every web page into the equivalent of a blog with a comment section. Of course, there is the question of whether this is a good thing or not. In any case, Google’s power has grown once more.