Google wants to know what you have to say on everything from medical problems to cities visited. On Wednesday, Google launched SideWiki, a toolbar feature that allows users to add information or thoughts next to any Web page.
Users are being encouraged to contribute insights on important decisions, tips on various topics, background information, and added perspective on new products and technologies.
"Many people visit the same pages looking for the same information, and much of the Web browsing is a one-way experience," said Eitan Bencuya, a Google spokesperson. "Google SideWiki helps open up the Web experience by allowing everyone, from a local expert to a renowned doctor, to share helpful information with others about any page on the web."
SideWiki appears as a browser sidebar once a user downloads the updated Google Tool bar, and is combined with Google Profiles so users can find information about the entry's author.
"Under the hood, we have even more technology that will take your entry about the current page and show it next to Web pages that contain the same snippet of text," wrote Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management, and Michal Cierniak, lead engineer for Google SideWiki, in a Google blog post. "We also bring in relevant posts from blogs and other sources that talk about the current page so that you can discover their insights more easily, right next to the page they refer to."
However, before users share their knowledge on a specific topic or Web page with the world, Google has developed a mechanism to put relevant topics higher in the sidebar. Those entries considered most useful will be listed at the top.
Engineers are not sifting through the entries to decide their SideWiki ranking.
Google has been tinkering with SideWiki for a long time, and observers say this technology has been tried in the past and failed. The free Windows-only Web browser plug-in, Third Voice, was introduced in 1999 and was not well accepted.
"Web-site owners hated it, as it they had no control over users placing content or comments over their content," said Michael Gartenberg, an Interpret analyst. "It will be interesting to see if Google is able to overcome the resistance that had plagued earlier efforts."
"In addition, Google will have to work out a system to control spam and, of course, the question is when will the ads start and how will that go over with both Web-site owners and users?" Gartenberg added.
Testing The Waters
Google has been testing the feature with several design experts, news organizations, and businesses. Both positive and negative comments about SideWiki have emerged.
"Patients are constantly seeking new ways to learn about health information on the Web," said Dr. Dean Ornish, president of Preventive Medicine Research Institute. "I find it exciting that Google SideWiki provides a new platform for sharing medical information with users who are seeking additional background or context about this important topic."
Others, however, are frustrated because both the Firefox and Internet Explorer browsers can use SideWiki, while Google Chrome users will have to wait until Google engineers make it available.
"Come on, guys, I loved Google Chrome from the first while I had it, but if you're not going to support the thing, what's the point?," wrote Thorax232 on Google's official SideWiki page. "I'm tired of waiting on features to be added!"
"It's odd that Chrome is excluded in this initial experiment and underscores the difficulty for even Google to support their own ecosystem when there are other capable browsers already meeting users' needs," Gartenberg said.