Google just introduced Sidewiki, which enables anyone to comment on a page using Google’s toolbar.
I see danger.
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 vs me. It robs my site of much of its value (if the real conversation about WWGD? had occurred on Google instead of at Buzzmachine, how does that help me?). On a practical level, only people who use the Google Toolbar will see the comments left using it and so it bifurcates the conversation and puts some of it behind a hedge. Ethically, this is like other services that tried to frame a source’s content or that tried to add advertising to a site via a browser (see the evil Gator, which lost its fight vs publishers).
So this goes contrary to Google’s other services – search, advertising, embeddable content and functionality – that help advantage the edge. This is Google trying to be the centre.
Quite ungoogley, I’d say. And mind you, I’m a known Google fanboy. Hell, I wrote the book.
If Google wanted to enable the conversation or collect more information about pages to be smarter about them – thanks to our smarts – fine, but do that at the edge, guys. This is wrong for the internet and, I’ll predict, bad PR for Google.
MORE: I know I’ll be asked whether I think this is evil. As I just said in a tweet, somebody should have asked the “is it evil?” question. That’s why it’s there. I sense no one did. Evil means inconsistent with Google’s mission and morals. Google is about supporting the internet – adding value to it more than extracting value from it (and from those who create the value… at the edge). That would be evil.
: LATER: On Twitter, Google’s Matt Cutts says: “@jeffjarvis points taken, but if it gets larger group of people to write comments on web, that can be good. Plus API allows data to come out” And: “@jeffjarvis and I do see one very nice use case where people can add their comments about scammy sites, e.g. work-at-home scams.”
Points taken as well. It would enable sites without commenting functionality to get comments, including negative comments. In the case of a spam site, OK, that could be useful. But that could also include attacks that one now must monitor (watch out, Google: every story about Israel and race and Obama and health care will attract venom that affects my site but is not under my control).
I don’t think this was done maliciously at all. I think Google didn’t think through the implications.
I’m in favour of beta process; that’s what I wrote in my book. But it’s still incumbent on the developer of something new to try to think through these issues before the dangers are unleashed. At least ask.