I am a bit late to the game with comments on Sidewiki. (It launched more than a month ago.) A student in my Ryerson University reputation management class gave a presentation on it the other night which got me thinking that the debate about its influence on public relations has been thin. Surprising really given that some, like Mark Rose, believe Sidewiki "is a PR game changer".
Here's what Sidewiki allows you to do once you have installed the application: As Google describes it "Google Sidewiki is a browser sidebar that lets you contribute and read information alongside any web page."
In other words, you can write an un-moderated comment beside any web page you want. You can add anything you like (with the usual caveats about libel, perversion, vulgarity, etc.), provide your perspective on the page, add new information, share an anecdote, or add a link that sends readers somewhere else.
I believe Google uses an algorithm to rank Sidekwiki posts by relevance and credibility rather than chronology. Through its webmaster tools it will also allow the website owner always to have the first note in the sidebar.
Of course, the dangers are self-evident. My first Sidewiki contribution to the front page of the Globe and Mail was a complaint about the panic-inducing headlines and coverage of H1N1 in Canada's national newspaper. As much as I like to be helpful, I am just as likely to get frustrated by the content on organizations' web pages. Now I can have that frustration, even anger or disgust made evident to every other reader of the page with the Sidwiki app.
The debate about the ethics of being able to tread on the last piece of web ground that an organization could "own" should go on for a long time yet once people take the full measure of this new social combat tool. At least I hope it does. (If you want to see some pretty harsh and cogent criticisms take a look at the website called Sidewiki Sux.)
But Sidewiki may have one benefit. For those of us who get stonewalled whenever we suggest that organizations should pay more attention to their websites, make them more peppy and responsive, treat them less like a print annual report or marketing brochure and more like, say, a collaboration platform, this may be a turning point.
Could Sidewiki actually encourage (force) website owners to breathe life back into moribund web anatomies because people may actually be stopping by and, excuse the vulgarity, taking a piss on them?