Google Sidewiki Does Web Annotation With Personality

By September 25, 2009

Added functionality is coming to the Google Toolbar in the form of Google Sidewiki . It lives in the browser sidebar, and hopes to group user-created entries by relevancy. Different individual reactions, insights or other information appear alongside the Web page, grouped by an algorithm that aims to promote useful entries, rather than just the most recent ones. Sidewiki was announced on the Official Google Blog Wednesday, and the product is available now for Firefox or Internet Explorer, and soon for Chrome and other browsers.

The sidebar aims to bring verified information to the Web browser. Because of this, Sidewiki does not incorporate anonymous entries - users can contribute and read information, but not without a special profile. In this way, a site can have a list of "Expert insights on important issues," as in their CDC Heart Disease Prevention example , with entries from a list of doctors.

As for this profile , the individual page has an avatar, an "About me" tab with basic information like place of origin, and affiliated companies and schools, as well as a "Sidewiki" tab, listing the entries of the specific user. The whole thing reads like a "lite" LinkedIn entry. Even more so, considering the algorithm that has been constructed to recommend entries based on usefulness.

Google wants us to contribute background, inside perspectives, and recommendations. But some Web sites already have this functionality built-in, especially blogs. That functionality would be the Comments section. This is one of Technology News ' major criticisms of Google's new annotation tool - not only is it redundant, but it seems to seek to displace site owners' control of user generated feedback.

Another problematic feature for some is the entry-prioritizing algorithm. Will it actually identify what is useful? There is user voting of entries, which should mitigate this problem, but no source information is available on whether the algorithm will be able to learn from the votes.

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