Will Google Sidewiki Steal Traffic from Bloggers?

Recently launched annotation service Google Sidewiki draws criticism from BuzzMachine blogger Jeff Jarvis, who raises concerns such as that users may opt to leave comments on Sidewiki instead of on bloggers' posts. Dozens of other companies, including Google, have tried annotation services in the past. Google is defending Sidewiki, but there may be fallout.

Some bloggers are in a snit over a new commenting system from Google they fear will divert reader responses from their blog posts to the search engine. Google doesn't believe bloggers have anything to worry about. It's one more joust between the world's leading search engine and publishers.

BuzzMachine blogger Jeff Jarvis criticized Google Sidewiki not long after Google launched the annotation service Sept. 23 in its latest attempt to get users to interact with the Web pages it serves up.

Sidewiki is a feature of Google Toolbar. Once installed in the Mozilla Firefox or Microsoft Internet Explorer Web browsers, it allows users to leave comments in a sidebar on any Web page. Users click the Sidewiki button in the Google Toolbar to pop out a Sidewiki notepad on which they can comment on the Web page's content.

Dozens of other companies, including Google, have tried annotation services in the past with little or no success. Sidewiki hits a little close to home for Jarvis, who said he feels that users may opt to leave comments on Sidewiki instead of at the end of bloggers' posts.

"Google is trying to take interactivity away from the source and centralize it. This isn't like Disqus, which enables me to add comment functionality on my blog. It takes comments away from my blog and puts them on Google. That sets up Google in channel conflict versus me. It robs my site of much of its value," Jarvis wrote.

Jarvis advised Google that if it wants to enable users to interact with each other over the Web pages it serves, it needs to do so without diverting traffic from hard-working bloggers. "This is wrong for the Internet and, I'll predict, bad PR for Google," he said.

Google defended Sidewiki in a statement e-mailed to eWEEK Sept. 24.

"Google Sidewiki's features complement those of existing commenting systems, and provide a way for users to share helpful information with others for sites that don't already have commenting in place. The increasing number of sites that enable commenting shows that there is genuine demand for allowing users to engage with sites more deeply and to contribute to the Web."

The spokesperson also pointed out that Sidewiki is different from previous commenting systems because it ranks entries algorithmically in order of usefulness and relevance to the page. Also, when a user writes an entry about a specific piece of text, it will also appear on all the other Web sites where the same text occurs.

Google's position will do little to douse the fire Jarvis started on BuzzMachine, with readers leaving more than 100 comments blasting or supporting Sidewiki. Reader Chris wrote:

""Many people spend hundreds of dollars to promote their sites. What is going to stop a competitor from posting their link or information on my site or any other site. They will get the benefit from MY hard work and money. NOT cool! What if someone was an affiliate or selling a product? Someone could Sidewiki a 'sale' on someone else's site. Google or anyone should have NO RIGHT to modify the content, ( and while not actually modifying the content ) they are modifying the presentation or how it is displayed. This is just wrong, wrong, wrong! I for one will be looking for a way to have Sidewiki disabled. I will also join any lawsuit.""

Google Search Engineer Matt Cutts defended Sidewiki in a comment on Jarvis' post:

""I think comments have been getting more and more bifurcated with FriendFeed and similar systems. Sidewiki puts the comments back on the original URL, and it provides an API so that people can extract the Sidewiki comments for a particular page and could fold them into a conversation.""

Even so, if the fallout is bad enough, Google could let users opt in to Sidewiki, or at least opt out. Then again, users could also stop using the Google Toolbar, which would be the ultimate rebellion.

Readers: What do you say? Should Sidewiki be opt-in, or at the least, offer an opt-out button? The floor is yours.