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Thursday, September 24, 2009

SideWiki: Visitors can Comment on Web Pages

Google has added SideWiki to the Google Toolbar to let Web surfers comment on any Web page. Participants will be able to comment on anything from doctors to Web security next to pages containing information. SideWiki comments appear as a browser sidebar, but it doesn't work with Google's own Chrome browser. Relevant topics will be moved to the top.

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.

Repeating History

Engineers are not sifting through the entries to decide their SideWiki ranking.

"Rather than ordering entries chronologically, we use a unique algorithm that incorporates various signals about the entries to rank them in terms of usefulness," Bencuya said. "We also use community-monitored flagging as part of the algorithm so that you can vote entries up or down, or flag posts that are inappropriate."

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."

By Patricia Resende

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