A couple of days ago Google announced something very interesting – Sidewiki. This creates an overlay on any website / url allowing a form of commenting and rating. Because this is linked to the browser, the site owners themselves have no say here – you can’t opt-in or opt-out. At one level this could be a move which forces every website into the social media space – whether they like it or not.
Powerful stuff – so I signed-up and at that point realised the sting in the tail. In order to work, your browser has to send Google details of your browsing. This gives Google the information it has been craving for a long time, largely without success thus far – identifiable data about individuals’ behaviour, not just anonymous links that come into a website.
As I understand it – Google’s strategy is based around accumulating as much data as possible about individuals in order to, in Google’s words “improve the quality of service we can offer”. What this actually means is improve the quality of the data Google can offer advertisers. Ultimately Google is looking to push this away from just computers into any digital device that individuals use – thus building up a complete picture of their digital life.
The flaw in this strategy is not a technical one – it is a social one. People were happy with Google search because the results were based on collective behaviour, but each contribution was anonymous. A shift to a form of output based on their identifiable behaviour as an individual, not their anonymous behaviour within a group – will not be seen as socially acceptable. People will not trust Google enough to feel comfortable with them having this level of knowledge. The key to making this strategy work therefore is to construct a big sugar coating around this particular pill – hence Sidewiki. Perhaps a better name for it would be Big Sidebrother.
This is a shame – because attractive as this sugar coating is, the pill is still too bitter to swallow (that said, I haven’t de-enabled sidewiki yet!)