Google continues to come up with new ways to present Web content, or let even users interact with the Web content they find.
Following last week's launch of the maligned (unfairly, I believe) Google Fast Flip news-reading experiment, is Google Sidewiki, a browser sidebar launched from the Google Toolbar that lets users make comments on the content they stumble upon in Web searches.
Users can start comments on a Web page and, much like they can with Google Reader, share their comments via e-mail Twitter, Facebook. Or, users may simply read what others have to say about content. Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management at Google and Michal Cierniak, engineering lead for Google Sidewiki, noted:
"What if everyone, from a local expert to a renowned doctor, had an easy way of sharing their insights with you about any page on the web? What if you could add your own insights for others who are passing through?"
Characterized as such, Sidewiki would seem to be a cross between Google's Knol expert advice site and SearchWiki, which lets users reorder search results to their liking and comment on them. I'm not the first to make that leap, as others can attest via TechMeme today. I'll circle back to that after my run-through of the product.
You can install it here for Windows or Firefox (no Chrome support, yet). When you click to install Google Sidewiki with the Google Toolbar, you'll see this warning:
So, proceed with caution if you don't mind Google knowing the Web pages you peruse, though if you're using PageRank as part of Google Toolbar's "enhanced features," you're already doing this. For Sidewiki, Google warns:
"When you use Sidewiki to write, edit, or rate an entry, the URL of the relevant page, the type of action you performed, and the text related to that action are sent to Google and stored with your Google Account."
Sounds like something Google could use for nice contextual advertising in the future. Anyway, once you click yes to accept the conditions that go along with Sidewiki, you see:
When you want to use Sidewiki for another page, click the Sidewiki button in the Google Toolbar and a sidebar will appear. Click that to begin commenting, or see what others have written before you. You can affect the position of commenters' comments by clicking yes or no for whether or not you found their entry useful. Fun!
Google has had people testing this for some time, which is why you see several comments already for some pages. How Sidewiki fares depends on how much people use it. I'll admit, I was immediately tempted to comment on the Sidewiki page, seeing as how this is such a new service.
Navigating to another article about Sidewiki, I noted:
Yes, this was a shameless plug for Danny's piece on Sidewiki, but it's an example of the type of comments you can expect to see on Web pages.
Pichai and Cierniak explain that they we wanted to make sure that Sidewiki users will see the most relevant entries first, so instead of displaying the most recent entries first, Sidewiki entries use an algorithm that promotes the most useful entries. It takes into account feedback from users, previous entries made by the same author and voting and flagging features. Check out Google's demo here:
For the rest of the day, I will find myself checking Web pages for Sidewiki comments, mainly because this is Google's latest spin on socializing search results and making them more actionable.
In that sense, it's certainly more valuable than Knol, which I have to visit to read "expert" analyses on various topics, or SearchWiki, which lurks on results pages. Having a commenting tool actionable from the highly-used Google toolbar might prove more useful for Google.
The proof point for me is: Will I go back to it tomorrow? When I tested Knol and SearchWiki, I did not. Time will tell with Sidewiki if it has staying power.
For what it's worth, Google released the first version of its API to let client applications view Google Sidewiki content as Google Data API feeds.