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Monday, October 12th, 2009

The Google Sidewiki Controversy

The Google Sidewiki Controversy

muralesSylvie Fortin here, and I have a bone to pick with Google.

On September 23, 2009, Google launched a new, free service that purports to be the next big thing in social communities. It gives everyday people the ability to provide their own comments on ANY web page they visit, in a frame that resides right next to the page they are viewing.

(This is exactly as if Google installed a gigantic graffiti wall in front of your storefront, handed out paint cans, and invited passers-by to write all over the wall, without giving YOU the ability to erase anything. Ummm. Are they serious? Do they actually believe that only honest people would ever use the wall?)

At first glance, one might think this is a great idea, after all, it isn’t like Google has done anything particularly innovative. Diigo, Stickis and Fleck are all services that allow the general public to annotate the web and share their comments about websites they happen to be visiting.

But there are a few things that make Sidewiki dramatically different from all the rest of the web annotation applications, things that all website owners should pay close attention to. Because with the introduction of Sidewiki…

… Your workday is about to change in ways you may not realize.

Let’s start by recognizing that Google has become the undisputed champion in the ongoing battle for eyeballs. According to a recent B to B Magazine article, Google currently controls a solid 90.54% of the global search market share over its competition.

There was some speculation that Bing was going to beat Google, and for a brief shining moment, it seemed to be on the rise, but after the initial curiosity clicks passed, Google once again took back its market share to stomp Bing and every other search engine.

Knowing this, it is critical to avoid the mistake of dismissing anything new that Google does. Because unlike all other tools and software applications that get released and must spend a great deal of money to reach out to all those eyeballs, Google launches its new applications already owning over 90% of the world’s eyeballs.

And it doesn’t cost them a dime to reach them.

Think about the sheer power of that market share, and now think about how important it is that you don’t ignore the latest Google application… the Sidewiki.

In effect, this tiny little application has the potential to completely alter your business model, adding new costs and frustrations to your workday. How?

By allowing absolutely everyone to comment on any page of your website, and allowing clickable links within those comments, it has flung open the doors to brand new ways to mess with your life.

This means that anyone who has the Google Toolbar installed, including your competition, now has the ability to say anything they like about you or your products, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.

Nothing. Zip. Nada.

Yes, you do have the ability to click a tiny link next to their comments and “report abuse”. Whoopty-doo. Based on early tests, it takes Google moderators at least 48 hours to get around to removing abusive comments.

If you run an online business like I do, 48 hours is a lifetime if you’re staring at a nasty comment that is appearing on your own website, one that hundreds of visitors can see while they are deciding whether or not to buy your product.

Think about the many ways this tool can be abused.

  • Your competition could visit every page of your website and post a vicious lie about how you are a known sex offender and that if people want to buy products from good people, they should visit his site instead.
  • People could post direct download links to your products on your order page, thus sabotaging your sales.
  • Your own customers could confuse Sidewiki with your customer support, posting private information you are unable to respond to or correct in any way.
  • Have a product for sale? Others can post their “better price” for that product and completely kill your sales.

And the possibilities are endless.

So in essence, by opening up this type of “social commentary” for the general public, and by not allowing website owners to have any kind of control over what appears on their own websites, Google not only enjoys 90% market share of all search engine traffic but also they now control over 90% of YOUR customers, YOUR traffic, YOUR ad space, and YOUR money.

If you think for one minute that Google isn’t going to slap ads all over it, you are deluded. So, if you’re running a site that has Adsense ads, you will most likely see your revenue decrease rather quickly when Sidewiki introduces ad supported comments.

Instead of Google being your source for traffic, it now becomes your traffic hijacker by piggybacking your website and diverting people away from it instead of towards it.

People have argued that this is wonderful for the “end user”, because it allows you to make decisions about vendors in a more open and fair way. If you’re about to buy a product from a scammer, Sidewiki has the potential to “protect you” by allowing you to see what other customers have to say about their experience with you.

The argument is that if you are a good vendor with great products, then you have nothing to worry about, and that the only ones who should be worried are the scammers.

This, I would argue, is blatantly false, and the exact opposite of what will actually happen.

The fact is that ethical business owners are usually not as creative or inventive as scammers. We’re usually far too busy building quality products and websites to think about how to use tools like Sidewiki to abuse people.

But the scammers and spammers are VERY creative and spend a great deal of time thinking up new ways to abuse systems, software, and applications. They are rubbing their hands in glee thinking up ways they can destroy your business and your reputation, and Sidewiki is going to be so easy to manipulate.

Imagine how much time and money you’ll waste trying to stomp all the potential negative comments that can appear on each and every page of your website?

At the time of this writing, there is no simple way to locate new Sidewiki comments that have appeared while someone is viewing different pages of your website, so the only way you can protect yourself is to load each page of your site manually, while Sidewiki is open, and reporting comments as abusive… manually.

If you have only one website with only three pages, this is no big deal. But most of us have multiple websites, with multiple pages.

The prospect of having to load each page of each website every day, just to see what people are saying about us, is patently ridiculous. You would need to hire a full time reputation management team to keep track of it all.

So, how can you protect your business from these types of scavengers? That’s a terrific question, and I wish I could easily answer it. This is simply too new a problem for an effective and simple solution.

There are some bright programmers writing code, as we speak, and a few scripts that are supposed to block Sidewiki from appearing on your site at all. But how effective they are remains to be seen.

Michel and I will be following this story closely in the coming months, and will be providing you with updates on the most recent tools and solutions. For the most recent Sidewiki blocking tools, go to our Updated List of Sidewiki Blockers where we will keep track of the latest and most effective solutions to protect your site.

Stay tuned, because this is going to be a very bumpy ride.

Sylvie Fortin

P.S. There are a number of discussions going on about this issue, and there are some interesting points for and against Google Sidewiki. For further research, here are some points others have made that I find particularly interesting to note…

Update (You’ll Want to Read This!)

A couple of people have implied that we’re fearmongering here, and should just “get used to” the idea of the Social Web. (Bah, humbug!)

So, because lingering doubts may still exist, I decided to do a bit of sleuthing to see what I could find, for your convenience. I decided to take the plunge and go dive into the disgusting world of Sidewiki comment spam, willingly exposing myself to some of the vile stuff out there. (You’re welcome.)

I thought I would start my search by installing Sidewiki and checking out what people have chosen to post on it while viewing itself. After all, if Google believes in true “transparency”, then they should have no problem with letting the general public post whatever they want on their own website, right?

Following a few threads, I was introduced to a writer I’ve never heard of before. His name is John Varley, and he is spitting MAD about Sidewiki. So angry, in fact, that he is on a personal mission to spew as much vulgarity on Sidewiki (while on home page) as possible, every single day, until Google deletes the comment garbage that currently is displayed on his own website.

This is the message he wants Google to hear, and it is his hope that Google will listen, especially since they claim to be properly moderating Sidewiki in a prompt and efficient manner, what with their RELIABLE spam-sniffing algorithms and all.

Strong Language Warning! John Varley’s clear message to Google on THEIR website. UPDATE: John’s Sidewiki entries were deleted, sometime between 10/17 and 10/18. See Update #2 below.

Also, here’s John’s message on his own website (this one is clean and intelligently written), where he explains his thoughts on Sidewiki, and why he wants it to die: (See the big yellow box at the top, entitled “The Sidewiki Abomination!”)

(Or you can click here to visit “The Sidewiki Abomination” directly.)

I don’t blame him one bit, to be honest.

Take a look at the screenshot I took, after seeing the kind of garbage the real John Varley is seeing on his Sidewiki (I’ve edited the swearing out of it and added notations):

Sidewiki Abuse Example

Sidewiki Abuse Example

Also, another interesting Sidewiki comment popped up when I visited my Facebook page. Apparently, someone was smart enough to post a warning to Facebook users, since some people may think Sidewiki comments are from Facebook Friends, when they’re not. (Or that their Facebook accounts were hacked.)

Worst still, some people are posting on their Facebook’s Sidewiki, thinking it is private (like Facebook’s “Wall,” for example) since they are someone’s friend and their account’s permission settings is set to “friends only.”

The potential for Facebook users to think Sidewiki is part of Facebook is enormous. In fact, the above alert goes on to say that Sidewiki entries are PUBLIC and not controlled by profile permission settings, and warns users to be careful.

That’s precisely the issue, here. Sidewiki creates the perception that the comments are from the website or are part of it, which can lead to some serious liability issues — reputation aside, it only takes one hateful or libelous comment to seriously damage and even completely destroy one’s business and livelihood.

So, do you still think that Google Sidewiki is harmless?


If so, then there’s nothing more I can possibly say to convince you.

Until it happens to you, I suppose.

Update #2

Since I wrote the update #1, Google has proven my point by censoring Sidewiki entries that they didn’t like. Not because they broke the Terms of Use, but I suppose because the comments were directed AGAINST Google.

The real John Varley’s Sidewiki entries have been deleted completely. Mysteriously vanished. Strange, if you ask me. In fact, here’s a screenshot:


I guess Google doesn’t waste time deleting comments they don’t want appearing on THEIR site, huh? Could it be because they want to protect THEIR OWN reputation?

But interestingly enough, the FAKE John Varley’s sidewiki smarmy entries remain intact at the moment, fully two weeks after they were posted, even though multiple complaints have been submitted about them. Google has made a clear decision that these types of comments are perfectly acceptable, by leaving them there for all the world to see.


This is utterly ridiculous, in my opinion.

Want more examples? Fine, here are a few more. (Yes, all are screenshots, so that I don’t have to keep posting updates when Google employees come here and try to close the barn door after the horse has left the barn.)

Example of how Google gives Sidewiki spammers the royal treatment


Another spammer’s example

A smarter breed of Traffic Hijacker

A particularly vile example of what you can do with Sidewiki…

Click images to view full sized version…



Oh yeah, I’m totally comforted by Google’s crack team of moderators who seem to be doing a bang up job of removing Sidewiki comments that violate their rules.

Clearly, I have nothing to worry about. There’s no such thing as spam. All people will use Sidewiki to post meaningful and thoughtful commentaries about sites they visit. And Google will block all comments that violate their terms.


(If you believe this, then I have a bridge to sell you.)

Bottom line, you can’t have it both ways, Google. Please listen to what we’re saying here.

We love Google, and have always spoken highly of your tools and objectives. We think you’re brilliant. And we use many of your tools in our own business. But this specific tool needs to be fixed. Please. Before more innocent people, websites, and legitimate businesses get hurt.

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  • Scott Murdaugh

    I'm in FULL agreement… Side Wiki is like a free pass to spray graffiti on our websites… On content that we own, on hosting that we pay for…

    I'm not sure what the future holds for it (I hope a quick death), but I wouldn't be surprised to see Google penalizing sites that block or attempt to block the Side Wiki feature.

    And I definitely agree with Google slapping their ads on our sites. It's ridiculous.

    It's bad news all around. Nice post.


  • Paul Myers

    “For a good time, call…”

    Honestly, I've seen more intelligent graffiti in men's rooms than some of what I've read on Sidewiki comments to this point.

    Nice summary, Ms Fortin. And admirably shorter than my own. ;)


  • johnfurst

    Hi Sylvie,

    Your term traffic hijacking is really a good one. (I called my post on the subject, “Is Google SideWiki Evil?”).

    However, I wonder whether Sidewiki will have an impact, be adapted by a users. My personal guess (emphasis on guess) is that SearchWiki didn't make the impact Google anticipated and Sidewiki is the answer; the next attempt to get something similar going.

    Thinking about Sidewiki, isn't it likely that large corporations who are often not exactly customer friendly in nature get targeted by individual consumers or groups and take legal action against Google.

    My 2.07 euro cents

    • Anonymous

      Traffic HiJacking is a good term, but I think more to the point and something that has also been discussed here is that SideWiki allows Google (and others) to “steal the conversation” away from the original site USING the original sites assets.

      And since the most valuable asset a business owner has is its RELATIONSHIP to its customers or potential customers “conversation theft” is a serious, serious issue.

  • David Bruce Jr

    Wow… what a nightmare.
    I do local SEO, my new clients are coming to me for help in their Google Local Business Listings (aka Googlemaps)
    The amount of vicious comments bashing the competition in Googlemaps is really ugly.

    So now bashing or leaving false reviews/comments/ statements about your competitor can be done on the organic search listing?

    Damn… it just looks like it's going to be exponentially harder to earn a living offering products and services online.

    I'll be watching this very closely. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.
    I think I first found out about you guys from the Warriors forum roughly 9 years ago

  • Dan Sherman

    I don't like what I'm seeing from Sidewiki so far. Already seeing lots of spam and attempts at traffic hijacking. If you'd like to get a feel for the sort of stuff being posted, check out this search that shows people promoting their entries via Twitter:

    What really irks me is that when viewing Sidewiki entries directly, even though the URL is, the site being annotated is iframed. So it's the same sort of traffic jacking we saw with Google Image Search but have mostly grown to accept.

    Will it be acceptable when they start running Ads on those Sidewiki entries, effectively monetizing YOUR content for themselves, while eating up YOUR SERVER RESOURCES?

  • Sylvie Fortin

    @ Dan Sherman – I wholeheartedly agree with you. This whole issue can and likely will become ridiculous, very quickly. Some have argued that “fewer than 3% of Google users have the toolbar, so we're worrying over nothing”, but I think it is short term thinking. People fail to realize that the first people to use it will be the scumbags, and they are tickled pink that this exists.

  • Sylvie Fortin

    @ David Bruce Jr – Re: Google Maps – Exactly my point! People have already abused Google's “shiny new applications”, whenever they have the chance to do so, and Sidewiki is worse, because it sits right there on YOUR website, for anyone with it installed.

    It isn't just a “new way of social commentary” that would ordinarily live on a different site. It exists to divert people away from using YOUR commenting functionality to communicate with you, on your site, with moderation controls.


  • Sylvie Fortin

    @ johnfurst – It doesn't matter one bit to me whether Sidewiki takes off or not. The point is that it only takes ONE nasty scumbag who decides to make his competitor's life difficult. One scumbag who posts lies on your Sidewiki. One idiot who creatively makes his lies appear to be truthful. And it only takes ONE potential customer who sees that lie and decides not to buy your product.

    I agree that some big corporation is going to have big problems with this. It has already begun.

    For example, how about pharmaceutical companies who have to investigate every single negative side effect and document it for compliance with regulations? Sidewiki eliminates their ability to investigate, but allows the complaint to remain on the company's website for all the world to see.

    I have a feeling it will be something like this that can take down Sidewiki and force Google to listen. From what I see on their “feedback request” thread, they aren't listening to any of us.

  • Sylvie Fortin

    @ Paul Myers – I'm utterly appalled at the nature of some of the dirt people are posting on other people's “homes” online. Stuff like this makes it difficult for me to like people anymore. :)

  • bretthorvath

    You seem like a thoughtful and intelligent marketer, but your post makes you sound like you don't understand social communication:

    “By allo­wing abso­lu­tely ever­yone to com­ment on any page of your web­site, and allo­wing clic­ka­ble links within those com­ments, it has flung open the doors to brand new ways to mess with your life.

    This means that anyone who has the Goo­gle Tool­bar ins­ta­lled, inc­lu­ding your com­pe­ti­tion, now has the abi­lity to say anything they like about you or your pro­ducts, and there is abso­lu­tely nothing you can do about it.”

    This is not unique to Google SideWiki, anyone can post anything about your website at anytime, link things to it, twitter about it, facebook status about it, blog about it, and ALL of it is searchable, most gets indexed by Google anyway. Anytime someone searches your brand or website, they don't necessary get your business, they get the Internet's graffiti wall of comments and links to you and anything the Google brain thinks is similar to you.

    You go on to say….

    “At the time of this wri­ting, there is no sim­ple way to locate new Side­wiki com­ments that have appea­red while someone is vie­wing dif­fe­rent pages of your web­site, so the only way you can pro­tect your­self is to load each page of your site manually, while Side­wiki is open, and repor­ting com­ments as abu­sive… manually.

    The pros­pect of having to load each page of each web­site every day, just to see what peo­ple are saying about us, is patently ridi­cu­lous. You would need to hire a full time repu­ta­tion mana­ge­ment team to keep track of it all.”

    New's flash, these exact same activities, comments, opinions, and spamming are already happening to you all over the internet, or could easily begin, and yes, there's no easy way to track/engage these comments. If you're still under the delusion that you're in control of your brand then yes, you should hire an army of internet marketing specialist working away tireless to maintain control of your online identity.

    Its called “Social Media”, deal with it.

  • Sylvie Fortin

    @ bretthorvath – Thank you for your comments, and I especially thank you for making your comments here, on my blog, where I openly allow intelligent two-way communications to take place, in the spirit of open and honest dialogue.

    Which is exactly my point.

    Comments made in the form of open dialogue with the site owner, respectfully managed on the site owner's turf, is something I, and my husband, firmly believe in.

    That's why we have a blog. To encourage Social Communication. With our readers. With our fans. With people who agree with us. With people who respectfully disagree with us. With people who want to communicate with us, and who equally want us to communicate with them.

    THAT is my personal definition of Social Communication. And THAT, I highly recommend, encourage, and believe in.

    I don't have a problem with Social Communication. I have a BIG problem with Google deciding to piggyback my traffic. Traffic I work hard to attract. Traffic I want to visit my site. My traffic. Not Google's traffic. That is my problem.

    You said…”these exact same activities, comments, opinions, and spamming are already happening to you all over the internet, or could easily begin, and yes, there's no easy way to track/engage these comments”

    My response…

    If Google wants to create a separate website, where people can mention my site, and the experiences they had while on my site, and how they feel about my site, and where I can reply to those experiences publicly, I would WELCOME this with open arms. It would actually be an amazing benefit for site owners, because it would give us one more possible place to reach out to the public and respond to concerns. (And the extra traffic would be nice, too)

    But that isn't what Google is doing. They are placing a large frame AROUND my site, piggybacking MY traffic, and telling people “hey, don't use this site's built in commenting system or their customer support center, use our tool instead to voice your opinions about them”, and that is traffic hijacking, in my opinion.

    It is the absolute antithesis of what Google purports to be, and it is one step over the line.

    I've always said “It doesn't matter what people say about you, what matters is how you publicly respond to what they say”, and I stand by that statement.

    That's why, although we are very much against Sidewiki, we are willing to wait and see how people choose to use it before we take drastic measures to block it. We're in a “let's see whether our site visitors are grown ups before we use “anti-graffiti” paint on that huge graffiti wall that was placed on our site without permission” mode.

    You said…”Its called “Social Media”, deal with it.”

    I'll ignore the sarcastic tone of that statement, and respond respectfully…

    As I hope has become clear, I have no problem with Social Media. My concern lies NOT with those who would use this tool in a “normal human” manner, to express their thoughts and opinions, whether in agreement or disagreement.

    My concern is with those who have BAD INTENT, like spammers, people with a grudge against capitalists, competitors who have more time than brains, and jerks who just enjoy picking fights with anyone they dislike.

    I'm not talking about people like you, who may or may not agree with my philosophies, from whom I welcome intelligent debate.

    I'm concerned with my inability to moderate content that, for the untrained eye, LOOKS LIKE IT IS ON MY SITE, rather than on a different website altogether.

    Google themselves has figured out that MOST people online today do not even understand what a browser is. That's why they created a handy video tutorial to explain this highly technical concept to people:

    So, I rhetorically ask you, if Google knows that

    1. Most internet users have no clue about the very basic technology that allows them to surf the web, and…

    2. Most internet users have no idea what's the difference between Google and the address bar, then…

    Isn't it peculiar that Google would invent something that, once installed, appears to be something that is part of MY site? Especially if, as they say, their motto is to Do No Evil?

  • Ryan Healy

    Excellent post. I read one of Paul Myers's posts late last week. Crazy stuff.

    Google really is creating a graffiti wall that stretches the length of the entire Internet. I've already personally witnessed some abuses of other people's sites. Whether the abuse was “justified” or not doesn't matter… people shouldn't be able to “snipe” web site owners like that.


  • Michel Fortin

    Wrong, Brett. This is not social media. It's social abuse.

    Saying that it is social media is just like saying that it's OK to vandalize store windows, hijack (i.e., kidnap) customers, incite riots, and plaster graffiti all over someone's private business establishment during an otherwise acceptable, legal, and peaceful social gathering or protest.

    See the difference?

    You said, “If you're still under the delusion that you're in control of your brand then yes, you should hire an army of internet marketing specialist working away tireless to maintain control of your online identity.”

    Controlling a brand is one thing. And you're right, there is no control over brands anymore. In fact the new reality of social media has spurred a whole new category of jobs, corporate divisions, even entire companies dedicated to managing online reputations.

    But you're equally delusional if you think Sylvie was talking about brand, reputation, or identity control.

    We're not.

    We're talking about safeguarding our business' storefront, its assets, its money, and more importantly, its own customers.

    Allowing peaceful protests outside one's establishment is one thing. That's what social media sites are for. But allowing abuse (even if the abuse can be reported) is downright evil. It's like giving away cans of paint to the peaceful protesters in front of our establishment with the hope they will use their paint peacefully, intelligently, and without ill will.

    It's no different than, say, a hacker breaking into our site and defacing it, literally stealing money away from us until the site is restored. But in this case, hackers are not the problem. (There always will be hackers.) the problem is with a seemingly legitimate piece of software that opens the floodgates for hackers to have their way.

    Let's take this a step further. It's like the analogy “Guns don't kill people, people kill people.” But in this case, it's more. It's like parking your van outside of someone's place of business, and giving out the guns for free to whomever asks for it to do as they please, expecting they will all follow the law and use them for good.

    Don't be surprised if someone decides to take their gun to hold up the store in question.

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  • Artemus Maximus

    I thought you guys *got* social media. You're proving you have no clue.

    All the “graffiti” talk is completely off the mark. You can't see the spray paint without special glasses. You can't mark up anything without a special pen.

    But that metaphor sucks too, because you're not really marking up the site. There's no “vandalism” going on the actual property. Hyperbole, completely.

    I have a Geo-locating iPhone app that buzzes me whenever I'm at a store or restaraunt. It gives me reviews, photos, data, possibly good deals, and allows me to leave reviews as well. This is the exact metaphor for what's going on here.

    You're consumers of information too. You'd tell any webmaster to shove it if he told you that you couldn't block his ads with popup blockers or AdBlock. You'd laugh in his face if he coded his site so you couldn't use Greasemonkey or Google Toolbar. Respect your users and the tools they want to install into their own browsers.

    It provides yet another social media point of failure for your PR, but it also provides a potential win as well. Give it a chance. I haven't seen any of the scary stuff anyone here has been clucking about anyway. The other 80% of you wish you had enough site visitors to worry about malicious comments. Please.

  • Anonymous

    I’m sure it won’t take long at all until the sidewiki begins to look just like the trashy comments section on You Tube. The difference is of course that Google owns You Tube but with sidewiki the information appears right beside someone else’s web property. I’m also skeptical that any meaningful or prompt moderation will take place. I have no doubt some small businesses will be ruined.

    And they said the lawless,Wild West internet atmosphere was disappearing. Google just decided to bring it back. Thanks,Big G!

    • Anonymous

      “I’m sure it won’t take long at all until the sidewiki begins to look just like the trashy comments section on You Tube”

      Now that’s a great and scary observation, because YouTube just started testing making their comments searchable:

      That’s significant as it shows that Google may in fact not care at all how crappy or even defamatory the sidewiki comments become.

  • Ryan Healy

    @”Artemus Maximus” – Your Geo-locating iPhone app is actually more like Google Maps. When you look up a restaurant on Google Maps, there are sometimes photos, reviews, etc.

    But these are not posted on the front of the restaurant. Big difference.

    If people want to gather together in a forum or on another site to disparage somebody or something, then that's their prerogative. And I think that's fine.

    But the fact that Sidewiki APPEARS to be part of the site… and doesn't include the site owner in the discussion… is a problem.

    You say: “But that metaphor sucks too, because you're not really marking up the site. There's no 'vandalism' going on the actual property. Hyperbole, completely.”

    You are correct. TECHNICALLY, you're not marking up the site or adding or deleting from the HTML on the page. But… it still APPEARS as if the comments are part of the site.

    So to be more technically correct in our analogy, let's say Google isn't giving you the tools to graffiti a site owner's site. They're just putting a sign on the front of the site… and letting you graffiti that instead!

    It would be like posting a permanent sign in front of a storefront for the express purpose of graffiti.

    Would you then say, “Hey, they're not putting graffiti on the storefront, you idiot… they're just putting graffiti on this sign! Why would you complain about that?? It's complete hyperbole to say the storefront is being vandalized.”

    Uh, no. It is not complete hyperbole.

    Lastly, if you want an example of how Sidewiki can be abused, check out:

    This is why in my last comment, I wrote:

    “I've already personally witnessed some abuses of other people's sites. Whether the abuse was 'justified' or not doesn't matter… people shouldn't be able to 'snipe' web site owners like that.”


    P.S. Sylvie/Michel – Feel free to edit my comment if you'd rather not have the link included.

    • SaltyDroid

      1. I’d like to contest the characterization of my post as a good example of abuse. I read and followed the Terms of Service very carefully. The comments I left were biting and aggressively negative, but they were also substantive and well crafted. They contained only a watered down version of my usual shenanigans, and I think they were well within the rules.

      If those comments had been left up, and every user of the Google Toolbar was able to see them, then their effects would have been devastating. I write better copy than Harlan, and the truth is on my side. He would be paying for the clicks to bring people to his crap sites, where I could then conceivably covert a large percentage of them into readers {and haters of Harlan natch!}.

      I think that’s hilarious in the case of Kilstein, but I’m undecided about it in other more ambiguous contexts. It might be a huge fiasco. Is the world ready for actual openness? There is much reason to doubt.

      2. I wouldn’t read too much in to the fact that all my comments were deleted so quickly … my situation is atypical. I left 13 comments over a very short time period for the sake of the blog post {not a normal thing to do}. Harlan is lost in obsession over me … I’d guess each of those comments were reported as abuse dozens and dozens times in that same short time period by the spam-cloud he recently used to have my blog taken down for, ironically, spamming.

      @Artemus Do you know what libelous means? If you do, please email me a list of all the examples of it that you find on my site. Good luck. {hint: it’s not a synonym for “rudeness”}

  • Michel Fortin

    I think you equally failed to read and understand the point my wife made in her article.

    For one, Sidewiki is a good idea… only if I had the choice to opt-out from it. Or moderate the comments or, at the very least, have instant response from abusive comments.

    But I don't.

    Second, Sidewiki also takes up 1/4 to 1/3 of my website's interface — it's not some add-on or sidebar or toolbar. A sidebar pushes the site and is part of the browser, while Sidewiki is layered on top of my site, obfuscating it. Big difference.

    Third, they are slow to respond to abuse, one of my wife's biggest contentions, along with the fact that Google (unlike some third-party social medium) owns 90% of the world's eyeballs.

    Fourth, Sidewiki appears on order forms and even product delivery pages, giving ill-intending scammers an open door to cost businesses money. 48 hours (the time it takes for Google to respond to abuse reports), for some online businesses, could mean thousands of dollars.

    Fifth, you said: “I have a Geo-locating iPhone app that buzzes me whenever I'm at a store or restaraunt. It gives me reviews, photos, data, possibly good deals, and allows me to leave reviews as well. This is the exact metaphor for what's going on here.”

    Wrong analogy. That's no different than, say, my toolbar or some of the other toolbars I have on my browsers that do the same thing. Or even scripts like Greasemonkey or toolbars and sidebars that are part of my browser.

    This is different.

    A better analogy is Google handing out menus from a competing restaurant to patrons inside my restaurant, as they're sitting down and just as they're about to order. If Google was an actual person inside my establishment doing this, they would be kicked out in an instant. Not 48 hours later.

  • Sylvie Fortin

    @ Artemus Maximus – I'm not sure why both you and Brett seem to feel that it is acceptable adult behavior to come on to someone's board and insult them with comments like “you have no clue” and “you are delusional”. I find this incredibly strange.

    Do we strike you as people who don't do our research before making statements about how we view tools, software, systems, and strategies? Sheesh!

    Can we please have a reasonable, grown up discussion without resorting to insulting intelligence?

    OK, let me see if I can word this differently, since it is clear that I must have missed the mark in explaining this issue accurately.

    You said…

    “You can't see the spray paint without special glasses. You can't mark up anything without a special pen”

    Yes, agreed. But what does that have to do with anything? Google is handing out the glasses and the special pen, to anyone that wants it. The way I see it, there are TWO types of people who will want it…those who wish to mark up my site, instead of interacting directly with us in an adult manner, and those who wish to use the special glasses to view the comments that others have left on the wall.

    There are also basically two types of people who could potentially want to leave comments using Sidewiki instead of the methods I supply them to communicate with me directly…

    The first type would be people who, for whatever reason, would not feel comfortable leaving their comments directly on my site, or sending me an email to communicate with me. But their intent is good. These people I have NO PROBLEM with.

    The second type would be the spammers, trolls, nasty competitors, whose intent is to HURT my business, and Google has now given them an easy way to do exactly that.

    So yes, you need special glasses to see and special pens to graffiti my site, but that's exactly my point. Most users may want to have those special tools for honest and good reasons, but I am concerned about those who have BAD intent, now having the rights to screw up my hard work.

    You keep speaking from the perspective of someone who would not use it to abuse anyone, but you're proving my point in the process.

    You said…

    “Give it a chance. I haven't seen any of the scary stuff anyone here has been clucking about anyway.”

    I have already said “although we are very much against Sidewiki, we are willing to wait and see how people choose to use it before we take drastic measures to block it. We're in a “let's see whether our site visitors are grown ups before we use “anti-graffiti” paint on that huge graffiti wall that was placed on our site without permission” mode.”

    But I HAVE seen some pretty awful stuff that has been posted, the abuse and spam has already begun.

    Just because you haven't seen it yet doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

    I'm sorry, Artemus, but my points have already been proven to be true concerns. Maybe not for you (yet) and maybe not for me (yet) but I am not the type of person to deal with issues like this in a “as long as it doesn't affect me, I am ok with it” manner.

    When bad things happen, I stand up and speak out about it. I don't sit on the sidelines watching, waiting until it hurts ME before I do something about it. Nor do I prematurely criticize others who bring up potentially viable concerns.

    • Artemus Maximus

      I did not mean to insult you, Silvie. Perhaps my frustration with so called experts so clearly not *getting this* shined through. I can’t candy coat the irony of so many of you being in self serving denial. You didn’t bother to rebut my point about sidewiki *not* being part of the site, I’m assuming you accept that, but you cleverly grasped the weaker of the two analogies to harangue the “graffiti” issue. I’ll take that away from you now as well, since Sidewiki is like the google bus driving up and down the information highway. When you drive past a business, the windows in the bus are the transparent chalkboard (or OLED display if you want to get fancy). Nothing is on your property. It’s all googles. They just make it really convenient to see this information. As a user, why would I *not* want this information to be available in context at the site? Going to to read about something here would be suboptimal.

      By the exact same logic to your arguments; Cars that go above 65 mph, firearms, pocket knives, baseball bats, Email, *The Internet* are all evil, because despite their intended use, people abuse them. Frequently.

      Sidewiki is just simply one additional place you may want to monitor your brand. No more, no less. Frankly, I feel the whole “Dumb users may think Sidewiki is part of the site” argument non compelling. There are many tools that already do this, and quite frankly, it’s not Google’s (or anyone elses fault). The sidebar itself is quite clearly not part of the site, and you have to push a button to open the sidebar that _says_ “google sidewiki” on it. What else do you want from these people?

      15 years ago, when you thought “the internet” was AOL or Earthlink, you were pretty non-savvy then. Now look at you. You probably haven’t used dial up in 7 years, and you know how to set up and connect to an encrypted WiFi connection. Stop enabling mediocrity for the sake of your argument. We fight the good fight and bring users along. Newbies and Malicious people alike are product design considerations, not reason alone to scream bloody murder and call for the service to discontinue like you have. For all the “Google is too big for their britches talk” floating around, you’re doing what is just called bullying.

      Good for you that you facilitate open discussion on your site. This is the crux of the issue. If you provide a more inviting place for your visitors to interact (after all, more people will see it), then Sidewiki isn’t an issue for you. So why all the hand wringing? Only the people getting social media wrong have something to worry about, and Sidewiki is the *least* of concern for that segment of site owners.

      You have no right to tell me what tools I can use in my browser. Why are you remotely barking up that tree? Where were all the advertisers and webmasters furious about popup blockers/Adblock and the sort – and how that impacted their business model? Why all the negativity when for every dumb comment (that by my count, the ‘Anti’ crowd had to dig for fairly earnestly – be honest!) I can come up with some good ones too. And what part about the trash bin section of comments do people not understand? Every single one of you conveniently omit the fact that you had to page through a few pages worth of clearly labeled “low quality” comments before you had to find a good example for your purposes. I’ll accept your argument when you show me something prominently on the first page that’s just flat out abuse or spam. Another concern: how else do the good-but-not voted up comments see the light of day otherwise? The algorithm is pretty strict. I’ve written quite a few good columns that didn’t make the display threshold until a few readers voted me up.

      Finally, you segment Sidewiki users in an unfair, self serving way to prove your points. For the majority of web users, using a unified comments system is appealing. I hate being forced to log in to yet another proprietary comments system, and don’t really care to give out my email address to the others, either. This point should resonate with you, as I see you’re using Disqus, someone trying to remedy this exact issue – but assume you’ve been through other painful platforms as well. I love the fact that *my* comments in sidewiki are attributed to me and I don’t need twelve different systems or even a pseudo federated system to leave comments when i browse the web. Speaking of which, what if Disqus more prominently launched their portal site with all of your comments syndicated to it. They can create a toolbar or browser extension that will do the exact same thing as Sidewiki. Don’t think it’s not in their planning either…

      In closing, I’m enamored with the potential of Sidewiki. The concept of social interaction or contextual information sharing *while* surfing is a more appealing model than the portal or destination site model. This is a productive person’s tool and what I – and an information consumer (AND producer) wants. There is no single tool to date that bridges the gap between the two better. And when there is, you can guarantee it’ll be just as controversial and disruptive as this is.

  • Sylvie Fortin

    @ tylamac – Exactly true! The word “skeptical” best describes how I feel about this. I am completely skeptical that Google fully understands the ramifications of what they are doing with this tool, but I am hopeful that they will set aside their geek hats long enough to listen to business owners who are up in arms about this travesty.

    It seems that all those who argue FOR this tool keep saying the same things, over and over again, from a very innocent perspective, making the mistake of assuming that powerful tools like this will only be used by people who join hands and sing Kumbaya around a campfire together.

    They seem to ignore the possible ABUSES that those with ill intent will quickly discover.

  • Ryan Healy

    @Sylvie writes: Some have argued that “fewer than 3% of Google users have the toolbar, so we're worrying over nothing”.

    I agree it is short term thinking.

    Once you say yes to a small request, it is much harder to say no to the next, larger request.

    Give an inch, they'll take a mile.


  • Paul Myers

    Artemus Maximus said, “I thought you guys *got* social media. You're proving you have no clue.”

    Sorry, sir, but “Don't agree with you” is not the same thing as “Don't understand the argument.” Nor does the fact that you haven't personally seen the kinds of comments people are expressing concerns about mean that they haven't been posted.

    I find it unlikely that you would not want some of the things I've seen posted using Sidewiki associated with you or any site you owned. They include links to pirated products, porn sites (a problem because of the inappropriate association), vulgar and anonymous trash talk and, in one extreme case, the comment that, “This guy looks like he'd rape your kids.”

    Yes, people can already post that stuff on other sites. That is precisely where the problem lies: In the case of Sidewiki, it does not look to most visitors like it's on someone else's site.

    I know you are aware that those are off in a separate channel. A lot of the people in these conversations are. However, a lot of people who are less familiar with technology and the specifics of Sidewiki won't know that. For them, it will appear as though the owner of the site “on” which the comments appear has allowed, or even endorsed, them.

    No-one has the right to force me to be directly associated with, and appear to endorse, any form of speech. That is the effect of having the Sidewiki pane open in a window with my URL in the location bar.

    Aside from that, the tool creates potential liabilities for site owners, even when the viewer knows the content is not created or controlled by them. If someone could convince a judge that it's normal and prudent business practice to monitor every Sidewiki comment that is linked to their pages, they can establish grounds for suit against the site owner for malicious or libelous comments the owner does not act to have removed.

    Judges have been convinced of far less sensible things, as you are probably aware.

    The solution to this is very simple: Adjust the tool so that the comments are unambiguously separate from the visited site, preferably in a new browser tab or window, rather than a pop-up type system. If the URL in the location bar of that window is a Google link, the problem is over.

    That answers all the ethical questions related to the technology, without interfering with anyone's right to discuss what they want, when they want, using the software of their choice.


  • Artemus Maximus

    Sorry I missed this. I also missed that troll's libelous campaign, because it appears his comments are not available for viewing (can you still see them?). If not — did you just prove my point of the sidewiki system working as it should? Possibly, he got some of them posted to sites, so to be generous, I'll grant your points being a wash. I can't imagine his posts being on the front page – and as you know, when you are logged into the same account, your comments appear first in the sidebar, so perhaps he overinflated his ability to post these horrible things about people?

    Secondly, I'm sensing a really disingenuous campaign by naysayers to abuse the service, take a quick screenshot (since the naughty stuff doesn't stay up for long) and then say “See! Sidewiki enables this!” I can't call out the dum dums, but you people in specific should know better. I can abuse *anything* as a reason that it shouldn't be available. To an earlier point, I can prove this point with my car, programming expertise, email, or internet in general. Should be handicap those freedoms/skills/services to the point of mediocrity, just to be safe?

    We will just have to differ that people will consistently think Sidewiki is part of the site. It's a clear distinction to me, and it's only webmasters or site owners (people who *do* know the difference) complaining about this. I have yet to see a lay user implying they misunderstood this concept. There will be some, but is that really Google's fault? When you can mark up the page like you can with DotSpots – effectively marking up the actual content *inline* on the page, this is a much more aggressive model that webmasters could justifiably have cause to be concerned. But leave me – as the user the right to make my own decisions about what tools in my browser are useful to me. Once you publish the content, I'm allowed to do what I want with the content in my browser – as long as it doesn't violate any laws. This is clearly fair.

    Until Google starts advertising in the sidebar or doing other gray area things, you just need to give the G the benefit of the doubt. I don't see this as some tinfoil power play. They have apparently wanted to do this for a while:

    I hope to see more tools available to federate comments. The sidewiki API already allows you to pull sidewiki comments into your site, and more and more tools are soon to follow, including your beloved Disqus. For every vague example of bad comments, I can come up with specific examples of good comments as well. Your criticisms are self serving and one sided.

  • Artemus Maximus

    Michael, this is the third reply and possibly most terse, so forgive me:

    The concept of opt-out is dumb. Sites that have something to hide lose more because users will suspect why a site has opted out. Operationally, it's non feasible because it handicaps the service. If you don't want Sidewiki to be available for a page, don't make that page publicly accessible to all users. If you hold the position that the site owner doesn't own the Sidewiki (which is literally true), then as a user- I don't want you controlling the content in it.

    As for the bad comments, I've seen a lot of “YouTube” examples being thrown around, and that's certainly a black eye for G (And AOL comments which I despise). But Sidewiki sorts by quality, not chronologically — which in itself is light years ahead of what you'll see on youtube. We trust their websearch to do the right thing on average, so where's all the fear coming from now? Also, apparently, flagging abuse really works, because any so called examples I've seen screenshots of, no longer seem to exist. Your “they're slow to respond” argument is a flat out lie. No? Prove it. BTW, what's an acceptable time frame for so called abuse response? This is a straw man argument that if abuse was instantenously removed, would still not satisfy your underlying concern.

    Ah, the site designer argument. I sincerely appreciate the thought put into the layout of a site. But If I want to click a button and open a sidebar, that's my prerogative! I don't care what the webmaster thinks at that point. When I click the sidewiki button, I want to see what other users have to say about this page, I don't care about your fixed margins. – poor argument.

    Orderforms – Not if it's SSL. What order forms from reputable businesses don't use SSL again? You're speculating. I can do the same for *anything* useful. Any useful tool can be abused. Again though, this argument only seems valid to people claiming there's no differentiation between sidewiki and a site. I don't accept that argument.

    Also, according to your logic, Email is the worst perpetrator of fraud the world has seen this decade. Should we eliminate it? I'm not helping Sidewiki from a defensive business perspective, but to be honest, I would *LOVE* knowing about a cheaper price on a competing product. This argument bolstens the Sidewiki argument from a consumer's perspective. Another poor vector of attack on your behalf.

    Your logic defies reality in your re-scripted analogy, unfortunately. From a nit-picky logic perspective – how is google handing out flyers to patrons in your business, yet not really in the business?
    Conceptually, Google is never physically *in* or *on* the property. It's the *users* tool, activated when the user wants. You never differentiated HOW this is different than all the tools you listed. How this is different from my greasemonkey script that shows me Reddit/Digg/Friendfeed/Twitter/Disqus comments related to the page i'm on (coincidentally *in* a sidebar, nach…)? You never finished that thought, so I assume you abandoned that line of logic since it doesn't work.

    The iphone analogy is EXACTLY correct. A virtual layer of information is provided on demand to the user. No physical signs, menus, pens, spraypaint, or other incorrectly attributed concepts. You need the tool to see the information, the other patrons need the tool too to see it. Patrons without it go about their experience in a regular fashion – possibly missing out immensely. Either way, it's a choice the person looking at your store has. You're effectively coming up to me on the sidewalk saying If I have the iPhone in my pocket I can't go look at this information.

    In closing, I'd like to address something that a lot of you seem to miss completely. Sidewiki is and unless further innovation – will always be a derivative. Discusssions that mirror what the page contains. The tough love approach is that if sidewiki circumvents something on your site, at the end of the day; you control the most important variable: the site itself. You've all missed the forest for the trees. I'm not saying to change your site because of Sidewiki, but if a third party tool (which isn't really that pervasive) impacts the viability of your site; it's a design, business, or marketing strategy problem. Not Sidewiki's. Example: This site is fairly easy to engage with users, so I have little need to use a Sidewiki comment, plus the fact that the majority of visitors probably will never see a comment left there.

  • Michel Fortin

    I'm not going to reply to every point, because I think you made your case, though I still don't agree with it and many of your points are incorrect. But I am going to point one major flaw. You said, “You didn't bother to rebut my point about sidewiki *not* being part of the site.” Well, we did. In fact, we said that the point is NOT that it's not part of the site. It's that it is PERCEIVED as such. (The Facebook example my wife made in her update is one scenario of many.) This opens up liability issues.

    As far as saying we object because “we have something to hide,” of course we do. Not for nefarious reasons, as you seem to imply. But to protect our businesses, our customers, and our integrity. I suggest you check out my post here:

  • Sylvie Fortin

    @ Artemus – This is very obviously a case of business owner vs. casual web user, and I'm afraid you and I will never see eye to eye on the issue.

    I see this issue from the perspective of a business owner, one who works hard and spends a fortune to maintain the integrity and security of my websites. I make sure that hackers can't abuse my site. I make extra sure that customer data is secure. I work damn hard to make sure that my site remains G rated, and complies with legal statutes concerning what children may inadvertently see on my website. Sidewiki makes it impossible to maintain that integrity, and it offends me. Period.

    You continually approach this issue from a “comparison shopper's” point of view, one who seems to want spammers and competitors and trolls to have more rights than I am afforded.

    Your belief in the basic goodness of humanity astounds me.

    I was once like you, and fully believed in the basic goodness of people. I still believe in the basic goodness of people, only when they must stand face to face with a real person. But after over a decade online, I have seen the worst in humanity, if they are given the ability to hide behind fake names, fake identities, and fake IP addresses. If given half the chance to get away with it, they will say the worst possible things and do the most disgusting and vile acts, in the name of Freedom of Speech.

    You say that you didn't mean to insult me, but I don't believe that. If you and I were face to face, I sincerely doubt you would have tossed insults so casually, because you strike me as a person who would enjoy a debate, done with class and thoughtful consideration. But because you can freely post here under a pseudonym, it makes it easier for you to directly call my intelligence into question.

    I've given you full freedom to debate this issue on my blog, but I do not wish to debate this any further with you.

    You've refused to acknowledge the points I've made, which means you either didn't read, or you chose to spin it the way you liked.

    The bottom line is that Google has the right to do what they want and create as many applications they think are useful. You have the right to defend them.

    But I have every right to block their deliberate attempts to hijack MY traffic and the moment anyone abuses us in any way, using Sidewiki, I will absolutely stand by my right to remove the offending application from view, to protect my business, and my customers, from the dirtbags that won't hesitate to use their “freedom” unwisely.

    Have a terrific day, Artemus. Best of luck to you in your future endeavors.

  • Sylvie Fortin

    It just dawned on me, as I was re-reading your message. You said…

    “And what part about the trash bin section of comments do people not understand? Every single one of you conveniently omit the fact that you had to page through a few pages worth of clearly labeled “low quality” comments before you had to find a good example for your purposes.”

    Untrue, as is clearly evidenced by the screenshot above. Please review it again, and consider how it could possibly be considered fair to this science fiction writer, that disgusting and obviously vile and inappropriate comments be left ANYWHERE in Sidewiki? Yes, they get labeled as “low quality”, but so what? They are still there, for anyone with Sidewiki to view. They are there, in DIRECT association with this man's website, and they do NOT get removed, even though they are in clear violation of Google's own Terms of Service.

    From the Sidewiki Program Policies:

    “Don't pretend to be someone else. We don't allow impersonation of others or other behavior that is misleading or intended to be misleading.”

    Apparently, they aren't really serious about this, as evidenced above.

    “Speak your mind without being hateful or threatening to others”

    Oops, again, they aren't doing anything about this, except to nudge these types of comments into a “low quality” bin, still visible if people want to see it.

    “Don't post or link to sexually explicit material”

    Ummm, well this is just getting to be embarrassing. Maybe their moderators are just overwhelmed and haven't seen this stuff yet? No, they took the time to nudge this type of thing into a different “bin” but not delete it. So, I guess this is ok with them too.

    Your argument that these things get pushed off into a “trash bin” is false, and myopic.

    The fact that there is even ONE example is bad enough, and is plenty to prove my point. I have, in fact, many examples, but because I respect my site's visitors, I will not post them here.

    After all, our sites comply with legal regulations and remains family friendly. I intend to keep it that way, and will not allow Sidewiki, or any other “useful tool” to potentially cause us problems.

    • Artemus Maximus

      I think my mission is done here. I’ve given you more than pause and invalidated many of your arguments despite your confusingly *tag teaming* me — yet expecting me to understand you were all speaking as one, necessitating a consolidated response. Pushing you further clearly is activating your ego defense mechanisms which galvanizes your already emotionally charged positions, making this non productive. Since you said you no longer want to discuss it with me and own the site, this really makes a use case for Sidewiki. Thanks. So to honor your request I will stop invalidating your Sidewiki arguments. But I will comment on a few sub themes, however:

      Marketers are fairly terrible psychologists. I’m responsible for producing just as much content as I consume, but I recognize and appreciate the fact that readers outweigh us by multiple factors. Not honoring what they want is a recipe for FAIL, as the youngsters call it.

      You also overestimate my civility in person if just to make your subpoint that anonymity is somehow detrimental to informed discussion. Writing here, I’ve filtered twice as much as an in-face debate would have consisted. Stick to sociology.

      I also sense more than a little bit of disingenousness when you try to imply that I’m at an advantage because I’m posting under a pseudonym and you’re not. Owning the site, you’ve already threatened to expulse or ignore this debate, and to assume you’ve never posted under a pseudonym – something obviously available in your arsenal right now – makes the whole proposition that you have your hands tied behind your back ludicrous. Just because online marketers want to prop up their online reputation ecosystem doesn’t mean I have the inclination to play. At the end of the day, I want arguments to stand on their own, regardless who is saying it. G’day and thanks for being engaging for a few.

      Okay, parting shot, since you followed up too. You continue to hold the position that Sidewiki is part of the site, hence an implicit requirement to moderate it. This has already been proved incorrect. You then say “okay, well there’s a strong *perception* which is the problem”. My position remains that A) Your ‘perception’ bar fails – sidebar is clearly not part of the site, and B) even if your bar didn’t fail; it’s only a design consideration. Remedying that (making the sidebar open in a more distinct frame or window) will still not placate you, which reveals just how much of a straw man argument that was in the first place: You *hate* the idea of not controlling your brand which is the bottom line – which reinforces why I said you don’t get it in general. “Sidewiki is just simply one additional place you may want to monitor your brand.. No more, no less.” Possibly *more* since I know of no other venues besides GetSatisfaction which provision special site owner treatment.

    • Anonymous

      Artemus Maximus in his comments below (and thought, actually) is certainly proving your point(s), Sylvie. He sounds like exactly what Google had in mind when they developed Sidewiki.

  • Paul Myers

    Artie said: “We will just have to differ that people will consistently think Sidewiki is part of the site. [snip] There will be some, but is that really Google's fault?”


    They have an easy alternate approach that leaves their users the same access to time- and context-sensitive conversation, while eliminating the misperception. So, yeah. It's their responsibility.

    As far as the likelihood of people believing the content is under the control of the site it's linked to, I think the percentages are much higher than your dismissal would suggest. After 22 years of moderating electronic forums of various kinds, and 14 years of selling to the general online market, I'm convinced that even the most intelligent of people will make the easiest assumption.

    Why? Because it's usually right.

    What is your objection to having the Sidewiki content appear in a separate window, with a Google URL in the location bar?


  • Michel Fortin

    Let me respond to your comment, point by point…

    You said:

    “The concept of opt-out is dumb. Sites that have something to hide lose more because users will suspect why a site has opted out.”

    Opting out is dumb? So you have a right to a choice while I don't? Huh? First off, opting out of having Sidewiki appear seamless with my site is not the same as opting out of the service entirely. My contention is that it is perceived as part of my site. That's the problem.

    And for you to say “users will suspect why a site is opting out” is different than from me suspecting some users will use Sidewiki for bad intent?

    So what you're saying is, users are allowed to question businesses, but businesses aren't allowed to question users?

    You said:

    “If you don't want Sidewiki to be available for a page, don't make that page publicly accessible to all users.”

    The flaw in that argument is like saying, “If you don't like potentially abusive protests *inside* your establishment, then move it somewhere else.” That just sounds wrong, if you ask me.

    Continuing your logic, it's like saying my business, its traffic, and more important, its ability to conduct business openly is now owned by, controlled by, and must succumb to the whim of, Google? And Google has now a veto on where I should publicly erect and conduct my business?

    Can you not see the failed logic in that argument?

    Of course, you're right in principle. Because if I want to make my business public, I am taking a risk that it might be the target, both of well-intended users as well as ill-intended abusers. But ultimately, that's my choice, as it should be.

    Not Google's.

    You said:

    “Also, apparently, flagging abuse really works, because any so called examples I've seen screenshots of, no longer seem to exist. Your 'they're slow to respond' argument is a flat out lie. No? Prove it.”

    Well, I find it interesting that the comments were apparently there for a while, until we blogged about it — or, even more strangely, until you, Artemus, responded.


    But that is just one example of many. My wife countered this argument in another one of your comments, so I'll refer back to her reply.

    Being slow to respond is subjective. 10 minutes can be considered slow. For example, on a very busy site, where traffic and sales are made every single minute, a few minutes are still enough to cost that business money. Lots of it. Or even damage that business' future.

    Regardless of what you interpret as slow or fast.

    The only way around this is moderation by the site owner. Or opting out of the service. Or, at the very least, make the comments not seamless with the site, perhaps as links or taking users off my site, like Digg and others do.

    Then there's the issue that it only takes a few seconds for a bad comment to appear for someone to copy and paste, or take a screenshot of, or for the comment to appear somewhere else. (Our screenshot above is a case in point.)

    I don't care if people say that abusive comments are handled efficiently. Allowing them in the first place is the issue. Once you post something to the web, there's a permanent record of it somewhere. In fact, Google even indexes Sidewiki entries:

    You said (about the web design argument):

    “When I click the sidewiki button, I want to see what other users have to say about this page, I don't care about your fixed margins. Poor argument.”

    Wrong argument. It's not a site designer issue. I don't care about that. (Well, I do in a way. But that's because my sites are my “babies.” And it's also why I work hard to design my site, use scripts to prevent/block some of these third-party tools, as well as make my site usable, hack-proof, user-friendly, and safe.)

    But what I'm talking about is the obfuscation of my site, not so much that it makes it appear not as intended, but in a way that makes third-party content, like Sidewiki, appear seamless and as part of my site.

    THAT is my contention, one you still seem to bring up over and over again as a non-issue, when we've proven that it is very much an issue.

    You said:

    “Orderforms – Not if it's SSL. What order forms from reputable businesses don't use SSL again? You're speculating. I can do the same for *anything* useful.”

    Before you accuse me of speculating, please don't cast the first stone.

    I have read that Google doesn't have Sidewiki on secure pages, but an order form BEFORE the order is processed may not be secure (yet).

    The fact that you argue that “no reputable business doesn't use SSL” is speculating and making a universal statement — one which you seem to be arguing against when you feel I am making one.

    What about shopping carts before people checkout? What about PayPal and third-party ecommerce sites like Google Checkout that process orders that are not part of the initial site? Are you saying that these websites, which don't use SSL but use, say, Google Checkout, are not reputable?

    You said:

    “Also, according to your logic, Email is the worst perpetrator of fraud the world has seen this decade. Should we eliminate it?”

    Email is not the perpetrator. Spammers and scammers are. However, even though your argument makes sense, email came first before the Internet we know of today. Plus, with email, there are spam engines, scam-fighters, anti-virus programs, phishing filters, ad nauseum.

    But it's still my choice to filter out the spam *I* receive. And it's still my choice to opt-in to email I want to receive, and opt-out of those I don't. And it's also still my choice to publish my email address for people to contact me on my site, versus a contact form or helpdesk.

    Why is Sidewiki any different? Why is it that opting out is dumb in this case, but not with email?

    I know what you might say. You might say: “But opting out takes away users' choice.” Well, go tell that to Gmail who filters my spam for me, or what THEY think is spam, often without my knowledge or having my say in how they do it.

    You said:

    “But to be honest, I would *LOVE* knowing about a cheaper price on a competing product. This argument bolstens the Sidewiki argument from a consumer's perspective. Another poor vector of attack on your behalf.”

    Not my argument. It's not about competitors making competing offers while on my site, or people mentioning better offers. It's about competitors and scammers who have ill-intent making alternate offers (or abusive comments) in strategic locations AFTER a person made a decision to buy my product.

    Agreed, knowing better offers out there before I make a decision is fine. That's competition. It's healthy. But when it's a deliberate attempt to cripple my business, steal my traffic, and divert my sales while DEEP into my site — or appearing seamless with it — is another issue altogether.

    (Hence, the analogy of “handing out menus while sitting down in my restaurant while patrons are about to order” still stands, versus “handing out offers outside my establishment, on the sidewalk, BEFORE patrons make the decision to go in the store, sit down, order, and eat from my restaurant.”)

    In fact, you said:

    “How is google handing out flyers to patrons in your business, yet not really in the business? Conceptually, Google is never physically *in* or *on* the property. It's the *users* tool, activated when the user wants.”

    Conceptually, not perceptually.

    I made that point earlier. And again, I come back to the argument that, to the unsuspecting user who may not know the difference, the tool is NOT activated when the user wants and Sidewiki still appears to be a part of my site.

    You're making the erroneous assumption that everyone will know the difference, know how and when to activate Sidewiki when THEY want, or use the tool as a good consumer would.

    Ill-intending competitors, abusers, and scammers not only know this, they will rely on it to carry out their deeds.

    Let's say the user knows the difference. They may still perceive that comments appearing in Sidewiki while on my site are endorsed, or allowed to remain, by the site owner.

    If you say, “But you can flag these as abusive and have them removed.” Again, we're back to the argument that now I am forced to monitor every single page, on every single website I own, every single day. If I fail or miss just one of these comments, I am still potentially held liable.

    How can that be right???

    You said:

    “You never differentiated HOW this is different than all the tools you listed. How this is different from my greasemonkey script that shows me Reddit/Digg/Friendfeed/Twitter/Disqus comments related to the page i'm on (coincidentally *in* a sidebar, nach…)?”

    1. Google owns 90% of the world's eyeballs. I'm sure you know this since your IP is from Mountainview and your ISP seems to be Google. These other sites don't have that luxury. Many of them NEED a third-party tool or script to do exactly what you're saying.

    2. Greasemonkey is user-installed and user-activated. It's a third party script, not part of any one of those sites you mentioned. Google's Sidewiki, on the hand, is part of their toolbar. It's not a separate program, toolbar, or script on its own. Plus, based on my recollection, it's automatic. In other words, when I downloaded my Google toolbar, Sidewiki was turned on by default. I have to uncheck it to disable it.

    Also, Greasemonkey is a script that pulls information from other sites. Sidewiki is part of, well, Sidewiki. You can tell the difference with Greasemonkey because you asked for it to pull third-party information. It's NOT some entity that collects, houses, monitors, and displays comments in and of itself. It's just a script. But Sidewiki, on the other hand, does all of those. And more.

    3. Other tools proper are either moderated (like Disqus), blockable, or clearly distinct from the sites they're used on (such as the URL address bar showing “Digg,” etc).

    And believe me, there's a lot of contention behind these other tools, too. When Digg introduced it's toolbar, there was an uproar because they place the site in an iFrame, stealing traffic and “Google juice.”

    But this issue is slightly different as their URL shortener appeared to be from Digg, not the site. And the Diggbar links to related stories or comments about the site on proper — not on the site itself, therefore making the seamlessness appear, well, less seamless.

    You have to click on “comments” in your Digg toolbar to go to Digg to see the comments about the site.

    I'm cool with that. There's a difference between telling people there are comments about a site and its content, and people are invited to click on a link to view comments about a site, outside of it — rather than to actually appear integrated with the site and showing the comments right there, while on the site, for all to see.

    As I'm sure you know, Digg, confronted with the “hijacking” accusations and a litany of criticism, have backpeddled and removed this feature.

    Personally, I have no problems with third-party comments and actually like such a service. But Google Sidewiki is NOT like Digg or services like it. It appears, and works, seamlessly with the site.

    It creates confusion in the marketplace. (Isn't that what trademark and copyright laws exist for? To avoid confusion? But I digress.)

    Bottom line, Artemus, not everyone is as tech-savvy as you think you are.

    You said:

    “The iphone analogy is EXACTLY correct. A virtual layer of information is provided on demand to the user.”


    “Either way, it's a choice the person looking at your store has. You're effectively coming up to me on the sidewalk saying If I have the iPhone in my pocket I can't go look at this information.”

    Ah, perfectly said. Thank you, Artemus.

    Indeed, walking on the sidewalk is different than being in the store. Again, that's based on the idea that someone has to pull out their iPhone and, as you stated, it's “outside the store” or “on the sidewalk,” not in the store, sitting down, about to order because they have made the decision, at that point, to buy from the store.

    Sure, you can say my iPhone can ping me when I'm inside a store. But it's not part of iPhone proper, and it's an app I must download, install, and set according to what and how I want to use it. Similar to Greasemonkey.

    But Sidewiki is part of their toolbar. That would be like saying such an app is native to iPhone. If it was, don't be surprised if stores started asking people to leave their cell phones at the front door before shopping inside of it.

    It's no different than, say, theaters and concerts disallowing cameras or recording devices while IN the concert hall or movie theater. Some even confiscate such devices before entering their establishments.

    Sure, I would love to pull out my iPhone and see what theaters have the best deals and the types of movies (movie listings and movie reviews, for example) that might interest me…

    … BEFORE I make the decision to enter the theater, and particularly before I'm waiting in line at the box office, about to purchase my tickets AFTER I made my choice on which theater, movie, and showtime I want, and before I'm just about to hand over my money.

    You said:

    “I'm not saying to change your site because of Sidewiki, but if a third party tool (which isn't really that pervasive) impacts the viability of your site; it's a design, business, or marketing strategy problem. Not Sidewiki's.”

    That argument is flawed in so many ways.

    How many new scripts appear every day? Especially scripts with ill-intent from the outset, or scripts with the potential for misuse or abuse? How can we foresee all of these and plan accordingly?

    If I didn't plan for these, saying it's a design, business, or marketing strategy problem is arguable.

    But, if I choose to react, opt-out from (or block) them, or voice my concerns about them, then saying it's *my* problem is not only arguable… it's misguided.

    Again, you're deflecting the focus and blame away from Sidewiki. It's like saying: “But sir, we're giving out guns in front of your establishment and have a right to do so. If people decide to rob you with them, that's a strategic error on your part. You should have chosen another location to conduct your business. Oh, and installing a burglar alarm and bullet-proof windows (i.e., opting out) is just plain dumb. Clearly, you have something to hide.”

    You said:

    “Example: This site is fairly easy to engage with users, so I have little need to use a Sidewiki comment, plus the fact that the majority of visitors probably will never see a comment left there.”

    True and false.

    True, it's fairly easy to engage. But THAT is still our choice. Not Google's. And certainly not abusers' and scammers', either. Why is it OK for Google to give users a choice, including scammers and abusers, but you seem to be against businesses not having one?

    I don't get it. Sorry.

    Our site may be “easy to engage.” But we are able to moderate comments. Comments don't appear instantaneously, either. Even if we use Disqus' platform, which you seem to bring back up again and again to bolster your position.

    If Disqus ever decides to syndicate the comments on our site to another, as you say (which is another issue), still it would only be comments we approved.

    In another comment, you said:

    “For every vague example of bad comments, I can come up with specific examples of good comments as well. Your criticisms are self serving and one sided.”

    So you're saying that not bringing up examples of good comments makes our position one-sided and self-serving?

    Hmmm, I think there's no need to share examples of “good comments” to present what you seem to imply as a balanced viewpoint, because good comments is precisely Google's Sidewiki's raison-d'etre. After all, it's the very nature and purpose of Sidewiki.

    But we're showing the flip-side, how it can be abused, and the potential negative effects that may, has, and likely will happen. It doesn't make our argument self-serving or one-sided. It actually BRINGS balance to the equation.

    Otherwise, if left unchallenged or undisputed by not voicing our seeming one-sided concerns and asking the questions we're asking, then it would make Sidewiki's very existence just as self-serving and one-sided.

    Also, even if you say it does more good than harm, it doesn't diminish the harm it has caused and the potential harm it may cause. And it doesn't make it right, either.

    Our criticisms are based on legitimate fears and concerns, and PRECISELY because allowing those bad comments can really hurt. It only takes one bad apple to rotten the basket. So yes, we may be one-sided. But please don't tell me that we are and that you're not.

    People who rave about Sidewiki say that it's giving them a voice. That's wrong. Sidewiki is not giving people a voice. It's giving them a choice on how people choose to voice their opinions.

    We simply equally want the same choice to not have those opinions voiced on our establishments, or at least have a voice in how they're handled. And right now, we don't believe they're handled properly.

    So why would it be fair for Google to give people a choice but, at the same time, take away MY choice?

    In spite of the supposed majority of users being good and well-intended, as you think you are, you seem to be speaking from your own experience. Problem is, it certainly doesn't mean your experience or intent is as “pervasive” as you think it is, while at the same time saying that Sidewiki is not as pervasive.

    A road paved with good intentions indeed.

    A slippery one.

  • Artemus Maximus

    >I'm convinced that even the most intelligent
    >of people will make the easiest assumption.
    >Why? Because it's usually right.

    Occam's razor FAIL.
    What part of having to click the button on the Google toolbar, and the big “google sidewiki” banner still somehow pushes the assumption in the other direction? The easier assumption is that it's a feature of the google toolbar.

    What is my objection to having to inconveniently leave the context of the site or quote in question to go read something? Were you being rhetorical in some weird, twisted, defeat my own argument kind of way? I can go to some third party site and read about something, or I can see it in context next to the actual source. It's not a hard decision, Paul.

    @Salty, glad you were able to defend yourself, but I find your tactics more detrimental than good. By your screenshots, you'd do more damage to the success of a great concept like this as it tries to demonstrate usefulness (case in point your being the poster boy for so called abuse), where no corner would have your back. I respect your free speech (and wouldn't want to personally be caught on the opposite side of you), but doubt i'd find myself voting for whatever you've written thus far. By libelous, I mean something content mediators could be taken to court for, if even frivolously. For me, getting sued for libel is just as bad, even if it doesn't stick. Even if your target is really a bad person, it just reinforces his likelihood to sue for libel at the best, or defamation of character as he tries to rebuild his life. He has rights.

  • Paul Myers

    Artie said: “The easier assumption is that it's a feature of the google toolbar.”

    That's about as sound as assuming that clicking on a bookmark means the site that's displayed afterward is owned by the creator of your browser, since you clicked on the browser interface to display it.

    Neither assumption is especially logical, within the experience of the typical web surfer. What IS logical is that anything appearing under a domain's name in the location bar is an accepted part of the site at that domain.

    Re your response to Sylvie… If you wish to say that someone is lying when they suggest that their objections to the tool go away if the Sidewiki content is made unambiguously separate from the site to which it's linked, just say it. You'd be wrong in my case, but at least it would show some balls, as far as that's possible for an anonymous non-entity.

    You and some others have suggested that choosing not to allow Sidewiki comments indicates the site owners have something to hide. A ridiculous assumption, but one which some people will certainly make. Just as many of us, while recognizing your right to anonymity, wonder what you've got to hide. It's usually wise to question the motives of a person who vigorously promotes a perspective, but isn't willing to put their name behind it.

    You make a lot of assertions, but your “logic” mostly amounts to dismissing others' perspectives and slinging insults. That doesn't add to your credibility.

    As far as control – that's your issue, Artie, not mine. My issue is clarity. Move the content to a separate window, with a Google URL in the location toolbar, and the ethical issue regarding the tool itself is resolved. Then it's down to, as you say, handling abuse. An entirely different matter, but not a particularly new or unique one.

    Artie also replied: “What is my objection to having to inconveniently leave the context of the site or quote in question to go read something?”

    The only difference is the window the content appears in. Are you suggesting that you're incapable of following the contextual references if you need to switch tabs in your browser? Is it the extra click that's tough for you?

    Or is it that it no longer looks like it's on the same site?

    When you said, “I can go to some third party site and
    read about something, or I can see it in context next to the
    actual source,” you yourself are suggesting a perceived unity of Sidewiki comments and the site to which they're linked.

    Opening the Sidewiki content in a new window allows for expanded comments and even threaded replies, in an easier to read format. It does not in any way make the tool less useful. I'd personally find that sort of format more valuable, and more amenable to balanced and open discussion. It would certainly be less easy to game it in an abusive way.

    Those things seem a large group of benefits, compared to the trivial inconvenience of switching between browser tabs. And they make it more in line with true social media.


  • Sidewiki Sux

    We’ve posted some screen caps of our Sidewiki posts, and the posts of others. Although it seems fun and exciting to post protests and comments on others, in the end any intelligent person could see its unworkable. Its been discussed here plenty. Here are our screen caps:

    And our twitter site on the topic:

  • Jeff Bode

    Wow, I heard a little bit about Sidewiki, but ignored figuring out what it is, I guess I need to check out what people are saying about my sites.

    Then block sidewiki before problems arise

    thanks for the useful info!

  • Dan Sherman

    Thanks for the update on how Sidewiki is being used. I'm really disappointed by what Google's doing here. They created a solution for a problem that simply wasn't there. But I don't think being of service to the end user was their aim. I've seen other blogs talking about Sidewiki being another channel for capturing behavioral data.

    Also interesting is that they launched Sidewiki with little fanfare at the same time they launched Wave. The whole internet is buzzing with interest over Wave (a bloated piece of software that, again, solves a problem that wasn't there). But surprisingly little is being said about Sidewiki.

    I find it offensive that Google is quick to move on protecting their own reputation, but they continue to let Sidewiki comments such as those you have taken screen shots of above to persist.

  • Anonymous

    Oh boy! What a nice way to end my holiday…
    Google Sidewiki = Google graffitti

    This is extremely daunting and very, very sad when someone’s reputation is on the line…
    Surely Google must have a way to stop this?

    Sidewiki was made with good intentions no doubt, but if they have made it they can break it…

    How do we protect our reputation? Do we have any power?

  • PaulSchlegel


    I agree with everything you said here except the liability exposure. Correct me if I'm missing something, but hasn't it been well established that there is quite broad immunity for republication of defamatory republication of defamtory remarks on the internet?

    Convincing a judge that sidewiki somehow provides the site owner who has NO control at all over the comments doesn't sound very plausible to me.

  • leonaltman

    Wonder if there is some way to gather a petition to Google to at least give site owners the option to opt-out of Sidewiki. This is like leaving your front door open in a bad neighborhood – just making it too easy for all the online scammers and pirates out there. Certainly goes against Google's motto: “Do no evil.”

    • Anonymous

      I agree, if they could offer an opt-out choice it would be a start.

      It’ll be interesting to find out if Google Toolbar usage is growing and how fast.

      For anyone wanting to get rid of Sidewiki I found this group on Facebook “Help Petition Against Google’s Sidewiki” which leads to a petition that you can go straight to here

      Thanks for the great posts and bringing this discussion to our attention – it’s much appreciated.

  • kencalhoun

    Sylvie, thanks for an insightful article as always; it was very well researched and points made are very valid. Thanks too for the .js links for scripts to help block this unwanted addition.

    I can't imagine the business community at large not filing C&Ds and lawsuits about this if it goes unchecked; nobody has the right to what is in effect “iframing” my site by adding unwanted sidebar content, whether that be ads or comptetitors' slander.

    In this case, the FTC may be an ally since the upcoming Dec 1st rules/laws have requirements regarding disclosure, which this 'sidewicki' non-monitored content, seems, may easily run afoul of. What if the FTC sees sidewiki content as something you or one of your affiliates may have posted on your site, eg “great site” without disclosure? It's a big can of worms, and I'm certain many people may want to file C&Ds/legal action to require google to be compliant with the FTC laws and others, which this sounds like it may not be.


  • Deah

    Thanks for keeping us informed. Do I understand that one has to have Google Toolbar not just installed but actually open for Sidewiki to operate or be visible? Not that many people use Google Toolbar do they?

    BTW, Love your content, hate your pop ups and these side twitter & skribit things.

  • Deah

    Thanks for keeping us informed. Do I understand that one has to have Google Toolbar not just installed but actually open for Sidewiki to operate or be visible? Not that many people use Google Toolbar do they?

    BTW, Love your content, hate your pop ups and these side twitter & skribit things.

  • Mark

    It's downright ludircous. Google clearly didn't think thise on through.

    THey created a spammers haven and a place for the more critical side of the world to go be themselves on a new medium but a medium that could be someones livelihood.

    I don't understand this one bit, it's bewildering but let's just hope it blows over.

  • Mark

    It's downright ludircous. Google clearly didn't think thise on through.

    THey created a spammers haven and a place for the more critical side of the world to go be themselves on a new medium but a medium that could be someones livelihood.

    I don't understand this one bit, it's bewildering but let's just hope it blows over.

  • ColinNoden

    Isn't Google shooting itself in the foot? Looking at your examples, I could reverse engineer a google search and pick through the first 3 pages. Collect the highest adwords costing sites and then post appropriate affiliate links on the sidewiki. I get rich and google loses hefty adwords income. Not that I have the inclination to do that, but I bet the black hatters have already figured that one out. Usually Google is smarter than this.

  • ColinNoden

    Isn't Google shooting itself in the foot? Looking at your examples, I could reverse engineer a google search and pick through the first 3 pages. Collect the highest adwords costing sites and then post appropriate affiliate links on the sidewiki. I get rich and google loses hefty adwords income. Not that I have the inclination to do that, but I bet the black hatters have already figured that one out. Usually Google is smarter than this.

  • lsaid

    Criminal damage, class suit action and lose of revenue springs to mind. That will soon put paid to Google's idiocy and lack of care in their application bullied upon the whole of WWW.

  • lsaid

    Criminal damage, class suit action and lose of revenue springs to mind. That will soon put paid to Google's idiocy and lack of care in their application bullied upon the whole of WWW.

  • Kenny Handelman

    Thank you for taking the time to share how this is progressing.
    This is unbelievably concerning.
    I appreciate that you've taken the screen shots to show us the negative examples.
    Time to install a sidewiki blocking script!

  • Anonymous

    If I’m stooping to Google’s level, then so be it, but I think it’s time to pull out that ugliest, but unfailingly effective, of all weapons–RIDICULE.

    A second weapon that could be effective is to put a sticky post on your homepage that states clearly that the Sidewiki is not your doing but Google’s, was put there against your will but that you have no power to remove it, and state that if you are a decent person you will ignore it but that if you post to it all the world will know that you aren’t a decent person.

    It’s saddening that so few of the ‘big guys’ that have a lot to lose are risking Google’s wrath by speaking out. You two, Paul Myers, and Steven Wagenheim are the only ones I can think of at the moment. I won’t have any trouble remembering those who don’t speak out, though. :(

  • Ryan Edward

    I completely agree with this article. Anyone that thinks SideWiki can be good is dreaming. The only way SideWiki could work is in a perfect world and I think we both know that that is not going to happen anytime soon. What I also find interesting is that Google can't even keep the junk comments off of one site… YouTube… yet they think that they can moderate junk comments across the entire Internet, good luck Google.

  • Michel Fortin

    Plus, YouTube users have the ability to turn off comments. Sidewiki doesn't give us that luxury.

  • Michel Fortin

    I can't speak for Paul, but liability issues aside, the perceived liability can bring a world of grief.

    If someone thinks the comments are part of the site, or are left there and not reported as abuse (or seemingly ignored), and therefore are endorsed by, or acceptable to, the site, it could still spark frivolous and unwanted lawsuits. It could, such as the case law you linked to, not as republication but as originating from the owner him/herself. The publisher.

    I'm not a lawyer. And I may have to re-read that article, which is a bit confusing. But in this case, Sidewiki appears to be part of the site, and is layered on top of it, and can be construed as endorsed by the site. It's not on a separate third party site or via email, as the case linked demonstrates.

    And therefore, it may not be perceived as republication. Again, I may be wrong. But it's still a can of worms, even if unfounded, if you ask me.

    • Anonymous

      No doubt that perception is the real issue here and the bizarre lack of control site owners have over that perception in the case of the SideWiki tool.
      Just to follow up on the previous post, this article may be a bit clearer regarding actual liability issues:

  • Michel Fortin

    The difference, Paul, is that with YouTube, the user has at least the ability turn off comments if they wanted to. Sidewiki doesn't allow us that luxury. We have no choice.

  • PaulSchlegel

    That's true.

    Just for the record, I'm not a fan of SideWiki at all. I think the whole concept is bizarre – and that its even MORE bizarre that Google doesn't see it as bizarre.

    What I was getting at though was how hard it will probably be change Google's attitude just based on examples of crappy and even defamatory comments.

  • Sylvie Fortin

    Hi Deah. Yes, you are correct. People need to have Sidewiki open to view the comments. Which brings to mind…do I want people on my site who would want to use such a tool?

  • Sylvie Fortin

    So far, the only power we have, according to Google, is to “claim” our own sites by posting our own Sidewiki entries, on each and every page of our own sites, so that people know how to reach us directly. Uggh.

    That's all well and good if you only have one site with a few pages, but what about those of us who have dozens or hundreds of web properties? Each with hundreds of pages? Impossible task.

    The only other option is to install a Sidewiki blocker. See the article where we are posting constantly updated lists of technological solutions.

  • billvlasak

    I wrote briefly about all these issues in a forum about 2 weeks ago and agree that Google had better fix the spam algorithms and kick those moderators in the butt.
    What burns me furthermore is the fact that about 3 years ago or so someone else came up with this whole concept and I signed on as a promoter to avoid just such possible abuses.Then ,all of a sudden the concept took a whole other approach ,leaving me to think I was daft in my interpretation of the concept, and I ignored the e-mails for the most part.. {The new program is totally unrelated and based on flash.}
    So now I wonder,if Google bought the idea and 'developed 'it without a proper large network of moderators.
    It's possible to put a comment form on any blog and ,yes,even on a web site[ I have it] but I can also moderate the comments. JsKit makes that easily possible.
    I installed sidewiki about 3 weeks ago and have yet to use it.
    Fortunately bloggers like yourself have a great reputation and comments of malice would not be easily believed by your large group of followers.New readers subscription would suffer of course.
    My own blog would either sink or swim upstream with added visitors there to just read any bad sidewiki comments.
    Personally I think Google should have invested in JsKit stock/shares.>>much safer.

  • Sylvie Fortin

    OK, that is just hysterical! Thank you for doing this, and hopefully drawing attention to how Sidewiki could be used/abused by people with nefarious intent.

    I love how you're doing it, too. Keeping within the boundaries of their rules, and showcasing the possible damage that could be done on these sites.

    My favorite is the jihadist comments. Seriously, smart stuff!

  • Sylvie Fortin

    Absolutely agreed! What I find insulting is when people came on this board saying “I haven't seen anything bad posted” as if that proves their point.

    That's why I took all that extra time during the weekend, slogging through the crap, so I could show exactly what is there.

    • Dan Sherman

      I appreciate the time you took to put this all together. Especially considering the loss in revenue due to not spending the time on profitable activities. I don’t even want to guess how much money that adds up to.

      Keep up the good work. I’m a big fan of the Fortins.

  • drstuartm

    This is very discouraging, and well…very “1984”–in the Orwellian sense! It has the potential to totally remove fair play from the web.

  • drstuartm

    Totally “1984” in the Orwellian sense. This removes fair play from what could be a great educational resource as well as a way for honest people to make a living.

  • barney

    Most excellent summary, as well as seemly rebuttals to in idealist or three.
    While I've seen much commentary, here and elsewhere, I've yet to see discussion of a rather obvious corollary.
    This product can be the Web equivalent of a WMD (Weapon of Mass Distruction).
    Yea, verily, it has some constructive uses, and if not for Google's toolbar ToS, I'd probably enjoy exploring it in that fashion.
    It can also become, very quickly, a terrorist weapon … a Web equivalent of the IEDs used in the Middle East.. And, rather obviously, governance is not swiftly forthcoming.
    You, and others, have posted about the possible – and demonstrated – business side-effects. But no one seems to want to consider the very real dangers of a dedicated pogrom.
    Remember the 'Google bomb'? This just raised it to nuclear capability.

  • Sylvie Fortin

    Thank you for this link. Very informative! It is good to know that we can't get sued over garbage that others post on Sidewiki. But I still have concerns over how people can misperceive it as material I somehow allow on my site. Just last week, I had a conversation with someone who threatened to report me for being a scammer. Why? Because they had clicked an Adsense ad on one of my sites, got scammed by them, and they thought they had bought from ME.

    If people are that easily confused by an ad, think how they can be confused by what looks like my comment system. uggh. The mind boggles

  • smh1

    very reminiscent of third voice back in the very late 90's.
    there was an uproar back then too – a very loud one…..

    stuart halpryn

  • columbiajones

    Hi Sylvie and Michel,

    Thanks for getting on top of this and making a clear presentation for the problem.

    For anyone wondering if this “Storefront and Home Invasion” is acceptable, you need only look at the man hours spent right here to present the problem and comment on it. Legitimate internet marketers have much more productive things to do than defending against this blatant invasion by Google, but now we are forced to defend ourselves and our internet property. My reference to “Storefront Invasion” here is obvious but “Home Invasion” refers to the theft or wanton destruction of our web related property and contents, which directly steals money and property from ourselves and our families.

    This is like Google coming into your street corner brick and mortar store, removing the locks while holding you at gunpoint, and then posting 10 people on the sidewalk in front of your store with giant signs saying “Come on in and take what you want. We have the owner at gunpoint and she can no longer stop you from taking what you want. So just come on in and help yourself to her stuff.” While they are at it they are broadcasting that message over loud speakers.

    I completely agree that we must forbid this conduct from Google. Facebook got alapped when they tried to claim legal right to members' content. They straightened up after the protest.

    The same demand must be made now of Google. GET OUT of my store! NOW!! And STAY OUT!!!

    Sylvie and Michel: please spearhead a demand that Google “cease and desist” immediately!
    You can ask all the top marketing people in the world (and you are personal friends with most of them), to all share your info here with their lists. Then they ahould all request that anyone on their list who cares about this issue contact their U.S Congressman to introduce law ensuring that no such “Store and Home Invasions” will be tolerated. Also everyone should email Google with the same message.

    Thank you for your alertness and action,
    Columbia Jones

  • Paul Myers

    Generally speaking, you're right. It's not always as clear cut as we'd like, and there are other approaches that MIGHT get the suit accepted. You don't have to win a suit to do damage…


  • Anonymous

    Has anyone tried this? This fellow is selling a SideWiki blocker for $27.00…

    (url edited)

  • plussizehalloweencostume

    This is the first I've ever heard of Sidewiki, and all I can say, whomever at Google thought of this brilliant idea must have worked at eBay last year, and been the one to come up with their “new, improved” feedback policy, you know, the policy where buyers could leave any feedback they wanted, even if they never paid for their purchases, and sellers could not leave any negative feedback, even if the buyer didn't pay, reversed payment, wrote a bad check, was crazy/abusive or defrauded them in some way. The new policy where if you got a certain number of neutrals or negatives, and your feedback percentage fell below a certain percentage, eBay restricted your ability to list items for sale substantially, and you can guess what happened, unethical sellers started “buying” from their competition and immediately leaving negative feedback, within seconds of completing the “purchase”, and without paying for the items, so their competition couldn't list items for sale, and there were even extortionists making purchases and then demanding discounts or money in exchange for not giving negative feedback.

    As someone who works in the legal field, I'm frankly shocked that Google's legal team green lighted this, there's an absolute legal minefield they've stepped into. As a single person with a blog or website, we are personally responsible for anything which appears on our site, even if it was posted by someone else. We have an affirmative duty to patrol and promptly remove objectionable material, be it slanderous, promoting illegal activity, etc. In essence, Sidewicki is an extension of Google's website, the content is created and gathered through their code, it is stored on their servers, it is retrieved and displayed through their systems. They have control over it, and it doesn't appear they have the personnel, nobody would, to keep up with potentially hundreds of millions of people who could mess with them.

    I forsee a slew of lawsuits, including class action lawsuits, from a multitude of aggrieved parties, from the myspace user who is maligned by an ex-boyfriend, the facebook user who is accidentally tricked into posting private information on Sidewiki instead of to their circle of friends, the Hollywood celebrity whose blog is populated with their home phone number and address, embarrassing personal information, or slander, the business owner whose business reputation or sales are damaged by the mischievous or unscrupulous competitors.

    If it isn't gone fast, its gonna be a legal bloodbath.

  • Sidewiki Sux

    Thanks. Actually I felt kind of bad messing with the 911 site. I'll eventually delete it, and post an apology. But it does make a point.

  • KS

    This is a must read for all webmasters and marketers. How in the hell can Google not have foreseen this?

  • fastkilr

    Has anything really changed, though? Prior to blogs, I might've had the same argument against them. I have some space I can't control and don't know where it's going to wind up – it's the nature of the internet, I think. Anything that can be abused probably will be – and the more interactive social products become, the more probable it is that people will mess with us (leaving stupid responses to blogs, such as this one).

    Anyway, I thought it was a good read. Nice to hear this perspective I hadn't even thought about, whether it is or is not an overreaction. Either way, I don't have a business on the line, so I don't understand that anxiety and can't judge either. Thanks for the thoughtful article.

  • Michel Fortin

    The difference is, on my blog I have the ability to moderate comments.
    I can control what others say on it.

    Think this only applies to businesses? Let's say you have children
    viewing your blog. How would you feel if they saw pictures of naked
    women in Sidewiki? How would you react? Or pictures of a more vile and
    disgusting nature?

    Even if you could report them as abusive, it's too late. The damage is

    See the point?

    I control my blog, and I control comments, such as by moderating them
    or even turning comments off.

    But sidewiki removes that ability.

    • drmani

      I understand this won’t be popular, Michel, but you said:

      “I control my blog, and I control comments, such as by moderating them
      or even turning comments off.”

      That era of ‘control’ is over – has been for a while. Conversations about us ARE happening – just somewhere else, where we can’t always see or hear them.

      Creatively managing problems caused by tools like Sidewiki will involve re-thinking a strategy to guide or steer conversations to the way we’d like them to go – with absolutely no guarantee they will. That’s the nature of the beast we call the ‘social Web’.

      If you’re a fan of Miss.Marple mysteries by Agatha Christie, and see how village gossip can be cruel and destructive to individuals in a community, you’ll realize this is essentially built in to any human network – nothing new, or novel, or surprising about it. The Web does have vast potential for evil and destructiveness. But not everyone on it has been destroyed! (Yet?!)

      It might be very instructive and educational to have a discussion about HOW to handle a situation created by technology like Sidewiki (if blocking it is NOT an option).

      • Anonymous


        While you are correct (to a certain extent) that the era of control is over — the ability and creativity of the internet community to get around the Iranian Government’s attempt to stifle the flow of information to and from the Iranian dissidents being a prime example — your logic, not to mention your analogy, is faulty. For one thing, once the government of the People’s Republic of China gets wind of this, what do you think the likelihood of them tolerating Sidewiki will be? Think the Russian government is going to idly stand by and allow Russians to comment on the sidewiki for Pravda’s website? As we’ve all seen in the past, all it takes is a couple of threats from the PRC to get Google to fall all over themselves in an effort to comply.

        I’m all for free speech, and for free speech on the internet. If you want to set up your own website and disparage my name and reputation, feel free. I’ll even support your right to do so. To adopt your Agatha Christie country village analogy, I support the general right of those malicious petty village gossips to be out there doing whatever damage they wish. I support the right of any villagers who want to go find those gossips and indulge their own love of gossip. I support the right of the locals to go out and orate in the village commons, to publish a local newspaper, etc., as long what they say is correct, and if it isn’t, I can publicly call them on it, and hold them accountable for it. But that right ends where the public space ends, and private property begins.

        The village gossips don’t have a right to come into MY house against my will, and force their gossip on me. They don’t — or shouldn’t — have the right to come into my backyard against my will and use a megaphone to broadcast their gossip to my friends and neighbors. They don’t have the right to sneak into my house, go through my email contacts, my cell phone call record, and my address book, and then use my own phone line, my computer, and my cable modem connection, to then tell all the other village gossips how they can contact all my friends and business associates with the latest gossip. Without my consent, they don’t have the right to use what I have built with my own hard labor, my own money, my own resources, either for their own benefit, or for the amusement of random strangers who wander into the village looking for a little meanspirited fun.

        The village tittle-tattle stops (or should) at my front door.

  • Abey John

    I think the original intent behind SideWiki is to improve credibility and I think Sylvie what your main point of concern is the loss of control over your marketing message/market image. No doubt the spammers and hate mongers showing up next to your site is disconcerting (ok amp up the verb if thats too wishy washy) but I am not sure whats the exact credibility hit that going to happen. Most people recognize spam when they see it and automatically filter it out. Someone launching a cogent assault to besmirch your business needs to plan for it. Comments have to be more saner than “s**k my d***k”. Evil script kiddies rubbing their palms in glee at the thought of drowning their enemies in spam is a non issue. Yes in the near term there is the potential for confusing the relative noob on the net, and the older gen who find it hard to filter the signal from the noise. The younger gen are more adept at that. The consumer simply ignores the spam signal. You know its spam as soon as you see the listing. Sidewiki’s usefulness stems from the ability for the “social” side of the web to engage in honest conversation about the site’s product or service. And truth be told, we could do with a lot more background context to improve reliability. True that makes it just that much more harder for marketers. The message is no longer the sole signal to the visitor. She can dive into the background context and find out the good and the bad from an independent source. She will obviously ignore “s**k my d***k” but then she will pay attention to that superb undeclared bonus your site offered after the sale and just as avidly pay attention to the 25 day delay in shipping your shoes. (I think this is another one of those back room experiments at Google to try and improve the relevance signal). I would suggest we give it time. If SideWiki is useful it will survive. Else it will go to that place where all applications go to die… :)

  • John

    I’m not a lawyer, but I would presume that the DMCA covers websites and it appears to me that the entire SideWiki concept clearly violates the DMCA… in action and result, if not intent.

    From what I know of the tech world, I can’t imagine that any of the major players in it would find anything about SideWiki acceptable. Microsoft, Apple, HP, Dell, Adobe are just a few that come to mind. I don’t imagine that any .gov sites will appreciate it either.

    I’ll be recommending YaHoo! and Bing (even though I am no fan of Microsoft) to everyone I know.

  • Brian R

    I surely understand why many webmasters don’t like SideWiki and fear that competitors will use it to add comments to your site that will be as helpful as the comments that graffiti artists add to bathroom walls.

    You should monitor the SideWiki comments on your own site(s) closely and act promptly on negative comments. There are now tools available that can monitor SideWiki comments for you, and alert you when new comments are posted.

  • Anonymous

    Google are the moral arbiters of everything web.

    Whether you agree with my statement or not, I believe that this debate and others like it should be flagged and thoroughly discussed.

    I’m personally very uncomfortable with any business who can exert so much control. The business may indeed stand for all that is good etc etc but…

    Their agenda is to make profits. No matter how clever Google’s employee’s are, no one organization and no one person has perfect information. Decisions they are making will have an effect on us all.

    There will always be unforeseen outcomes from these types of initiatives. Sometimes the outcomes will be positive to society and sometimes they will be negative.

    Google are in an incredibly powerful and strong position to massively effect people’s lives, their businesses and their thoughts.

    I am a UK based capitalist who happens to think monopolies are often not good things to allow to happen. Google’s almost stranglehold grip on search engine, results and traffic is a concern that we should all have.

    All web based commercial interests are dancing to Google’s tune. Great when it works in your favour and not so great when it doesn’t.

    To the folks that don’t have a website and think they have no commercial interests… please think again. You implicitly trust that the results you see when you search are provided to you and will always have your best interests at heart.

    Those results may not serve your best interests but may serve the interests of spammers and may ultimately only serve the interests of Google (for good or not so good outcomes).

    I’m a Brit living in the UK and maybe we should just sit back and let this big brother do what it wants?

    I have not checked the legitimacy of this post here but I think it’s worth reading if only to get a sense of context.

    This post may not be completely in-line with this debate but I think and hope it adds some value.

    Warmest regards

    Steve (A British guy living in the UK)

  • Sylvie Fortin

    Yep, this one is already listed on the Google Sidewiki Blockers page.

    We haven't installed it yet, so we can't advise on its efficacy

  • Sylvie Fortin

    Well said!

  • Sylvie Fortin

    Thanks for this link! I've added it to our Sidewiki Blockers page:

  • Michel Fortin

    Sorry, Dr. Mani, but you're misunderstanding the point. Read some of the comments to help you. Or read Paul Myer's comments. This has less to do with managing one's reputation, than it is about making the comments distinct and separate from my site so people know the difference.

    If Sidewiki made their comments open up in a sidebar, NOT layered, or if the URL in the address bar was Google's (not mine), or if there are links that push the conversation on Google's turf and seem less seamless with my site, then it would be different.

    Finally, Dr. Mani, I want to say something a little more personal, in general. I've emailed you personally to keep this private.

    • drmani

      Michel, I’ve sent you a long email in reply, and deeply appreciate you taking time to send me those thoughts via email :-) (sometimes, email doesn’t get through. If mine didn’t, please let me know and I’ll re-send a copy)

  • Sylvie Fortin

    Thanks for this link! I've added it to our Sidewiki Blockers list, in a new section where we'll list any Anti Sidewiki activism links.

  • Sylvie Fortin

    Hi Abey. Thanks for your comments. However, you're seeing this from your perspective, rather than seeing it from the perspective of someone relatively new to online tools. Remember, you're talking to someone who runs a company that specializes in supplying web based businesses with customer support services. Which means, we see MORE than just one perspective. We see the flood of emails from people who ask the “dumbest” questions, because they just aren't web savvy. Most can't tell the difference between an ad appearing on your site vs. your content. This is hardly different.

  • Sylvie Fortin

    Hey John. Yep. I'm afraid that I will be following suit myself, and for the first time since Google was born, I will be actively using an alternate search engine. I know it ain't much, but it's my own personal boycott.

  • leonaltman

    Somehow I think an opt-out option would appeal more to Google's sensibility than widespread use of blocking tools. Thanks for the petition link.

  • Me

    Get a CLUE.

    The site is MINE and I don't want ANY commentary on it. My site is MY VISION not yours. Don't touch it. Go somewhere ELSE and say what you want but not on my site. I control that.

  • Me

    Get a CLUE!

    How about I throw tolet paper on your house all day long… Do you have the time to protect every one of your assets from jerks and people? No… So give me some COURTESY and RESPECT with MY PROPERTY!

    Give me the ability to OPTIN or OUT. Not FORCE ME to use it.

  • Sylvie Fortin

    Oh, man, you have GOT to read this…

    John Varley graciously permitted me to use his personal horror storm with Sidewiki as an example on this website, as shown in the above screenshots.

    Today, I noticed he has updated his rant against Sidewiki, and I have got to tell you, I am still wiping the tears of laughter out of my eyes. This guy truly understands the problem, and for those of you who are still in doubt about how horrible this is, please read John's updated commentary. (Strong Language Warning)

    And while you're there, if you're a fan of science fiction, or if you aren't sure what to get for someone you know who is a Sci-Fi fan, please consider buying one or more of John's books either from Amazon, or from your local book store. I am personally planning to buy one of everything he has ever written, as my personal show of support for a guy who isn't afraid to speak his mind.

    His books are listed here:

    And no, please do NOT use Sidewiki to communicate with him, even if you want to post something nice. He makes it quite clear that he does not want any commenting on Sidewiki, and we should respect his wishes please.

    If you want to talk to him, he reads all his email and will respond if he chooses. Yes, he really does want to hear from his fans. :)

    Another update:

    Our friends at iCop posted a very interesting newsletter issue today. You will definitely want to read this!

    Apparently, Google has shown quite clearly that they do not intend to listen to any of us, ever. Period. Read the saga for yourself, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on their obvious self serving interest in this matter:
    Read their latest issue: The Finger Raising Ceremony

    Shocking stuff!!!

  • Pingback: Sidewiki can suck it | Mamas On The Web()

  • annavera

    Ughh! This is disgusting. But it's almost cyber-1984 in the making. Think of how much control someone could exert over the entire internet, just by gaining control over SideWikie and having the ability to decide which viewpoints to delete and which to leave intact? In fact, one could target any business, organization, religion, political group, or otherwise. Whether by using libel, by distracting visitors, by embedding download links or even links to dangerous websites/porn, etc. It reminds me of the old methods used to get rid of political opponents – just label them insane and have them shipped off to a mental institution.

    In other words, once someone has control of this tool, all he has to do is decide who to go after.

    One of the beauties of the internet is that it can't be controlled like the media can. I personally would not be surprised if this is just another way to get around that and make the internet controllable.

    Until now I have never had much but good things to say about Google. In the interest of their own motto, I truly hope they realize this mistake and change it before it gets too late.

  • johnfurst

    It's the first time that I actually submitted an image to but I thought
    Sidewiki is a noteworthy mention. Honestly I am a little bit confused about the
    process and the “cheezburnger” domain.

    Likely the crowd seems to be in favor of FAILS with more
    human suffering or comedy involved. On top of that there might have been
    better examples of Sidewiki FAILS too, but … I don't get paid for finding them :-)

    So I did it for the records so to speak. I mention it here, because your
    blog post made it possible.

    If you can spare 5 seconds, please, give it a vote. If not, it's fine too.
    Blog posts like this one are certainly a better time investment than
    voting on some random picture.

    You can vote here:


  • Pingback: 3 Joy-Jumping Traffic Ideas using Sidewiki | Lonnie Amirault - Internet Marketing Reviews()

  • Sylvie Fortin

    You got my vote, John. (and for the record, my deep dark shameful secret is that I am a big fan of Failblog, so I can tell a good Fail from a dumb one) LOL

  • Sylvie Fortin

    And more shocking news…

    Thanks to LB in the Warrior Forum for spotting this PRINT AD that Google placed in a newspaper, advertising for Sidewiki.

    I want you to pay close attention to how they chose to word the ad.

    Headline: “Every page on the web is missing one crucial voice. Yours.”

    Excuse me? What did you just say? Did you just say that EVERY page on the web needs/requires/craves opinions from every Joe Blow who has the urge to post whatever they damn well want to?


    Every page on the web?

    Pardon the language, but…
    HOLY CRAP!!!!!!

    Who the hell died and made Google the boss of the internet? When did they win the Gods of the Web Award?

    What makes them think they have the right to decide what appears anywhere on or near our websites!!!

    They have only ONE right. That is, they can choose which sites THEY POINT TO in their search engine. I have zero right to tell them how they should serve traffic, and I have steadfastly abstained on the issue for many years.

    But they think because they own over 90% of our eyeballs that this gives them the power to decide what our visitors may or may not do while on OUR SITES?

    (Can you tell I'm steamed?)

    (breathe, Sylvie, breathe)

    OK, now, take a look at the illustration they use to show how it works.

    Look closely.

    Do you see my point?

    OK, let me clarify…

    The illustration clearly shows that they know full well that Sidewiki is viewed as (and will be used as) the MAIN METHOD for social interaction while viewing a webpage.

    Meaning (for those who insist that Google means no harm to anyone with this) they are deliberately trying to sidetrack users AWAY from using our website's primary communication medium, and instead, use THEIRS.


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  • willbontrager

    Quote: “Headline: 'Every page on the web is missing one crucial voice. Yours.'”

    So, in their advertisement they are implying Sidewiki comments ARE a part of the web page the comments are left for.

    No more sidestepping the issue by their supporters with, “technically not a part of the page.”


  • Sylvie Fortin

    Exactly! The assertion that “people will know it isn't your website” is patently ridiculous. Google knows damn well that people will use it instead of our built in commenting system.

    But here's the real rub.

    You do not need Sidewiki installed in order to view comments that people have posted. Google has already proven this by including Sidewiki comments as fully indexed and searchable on their own engine.

    When anyone clicking THAT link (a link, not your own URL), they will definitely be confused, and Google knows it.

    Here's an example (I found this while searching on Google for the keyphrase “stop sidewiki”):

  • Dan Sherman

    Well, the nice thing is that the Sidewiki links will iframe your site, and there are TONS of tools out there for breaking out of iframes. Just take a look at the NY Times, open Sidewiki and click the direct link to a Sidewiki entry. Their iframe breaker works so fast, the Sidewiki will be gone before most people even see it's there.

    Myself and others (and probably you) have been using this for years to get traffic via optimizing for Google Image search. Now Google offers Sidewiki as another traffic funnel. Not their intention, of course, but it's mine.

    So that's the only existing solution to Sidewiki. Install an iframe breaker (I even think there are WordPress plugins that do it), and redirect Google toolbar users to a page that explains why you will not be allowing them to make use of your site.

  • Anonymous

    I am completely and totally appalled and that is putting it mildly. This is a f*@&$^) disaster. I just deactivated my Facebook account with a note that I no longer felt safe and would not reactivate until Google closed the doors to the predators using the Sidewiki tool. I have uninstalled Google toolbar. I refuse to even join Sidewiki to see the abuse. I am considering removing all adsense on all of my sites. There are other adsense alternatives. I have had some bizarre occurrences this past week on sites I have been a member of for years and couldn’t figure out why. I have been awaiting responses. Now i wonder if this might be the culprit.

    Silvia, if you can come up with any way we can band together to put a stop to this I am all ears. I am still on Mike’s mailing list (I think yours too) so please keep us posted.

  • Sylvie Fortin

    That is an excellent suggestion, Dan. Much appreciated!

  • Sylvie Fortin

    True, my days don't normally consist of fist waving and slogging through mountains of sleazy comments. I'm also much more peace-loving on any given day. But this issue is well worth the battle, if there is even the slightest chance that the Google Gods will listen to our pleas. :)

  • Sylvie Fortin

    Don't worry, KonaGirl. When I get this mad, I'm like a pit bull and won't stop biting until someone pries my jaws open. LOL

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  • Gary Dunsford

    I am very worried about this. I am just starting out in internet marketing, putting alot of time and effort in to make a nice site and drive traffic to it…just to have anyone who feels like it badmouth me and my business, so I cannot make a living. This really isnt fair….i think Google are getting far too big for their boots now and are bullying the likes of us trying to make an honest living on the internet. It is hard enough as it is, without this BS. Even with the best website in the world with the best offers, this is going to be a problem. Why do Google do this, they sit on their 'internet throne' and push their considerablw weight about. This needs to be ended…soon.

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  • J

    Apparently you just don't get it.

    People CAN SEE the comments without having the toolbar installed.

    Google has started indexing websites and ranking them high, but the difference is these say “….” in them and the sidewiki comments are there to see and you can also make comments.

    How do I know? Because I have done it myself. I do not have sidewiki installed, I do not have g toolbar installed.

    Those who seem to think that sidewiki is harmless, is the new 'social communication' tool and that everything is just fine are clearly blind to the implications of the problem and are choosing to not use their brains.

    Concerning legal issues, even if you can't be held liable, the problem is this. You can still get sued, still have to spend money getting your lawyer on it to send a letter to the other person's lawyer just telling them to screw off., which if you're like me, can cost you a few hundred dollars, if not thousands if the other person's lawyer decides to take it further.

    It is people like you that support these decisions that allow companies to make idiotic tools and not back down.

  • J

    I read this a long time ago about sidewiki, it has nothing to do with business, or vested financial interest, please, feel free to try to defend it:
    “Let me give some of those that still can not get it through your heads how dangerous this tool really is… I am 41 years old and I have been online for over 24 years. I have seen a great deal in my life and some things I wish I would have never seen.

    Some need to get it that these comments show next to your site. Who cares if joe blow talks about me on some other site – that is NOT the same thing.

    This tool has come from the depths of hell, out of the pit of everything evil and it will be used for such too..

    Mary Plain is jealous of the new family that moved in next door. Mary finds out they have a family website and she goes to the site and looks around. Mary decides she just hate these new people that moved in next to her and she wants to get rid of them.

    So mary decides that she is going to act like she is their friend and mary spends a great deal of time at their house. Mary just adores the children and says she would like to take some pictures of the family. So while doing normal activities like playing in the yard with your kids, bouncing your daughter on your knee, sleeping with child because they are sick and want to feel safe, and etc …

    (Come on we all have done these things because we love our children)

    Mary after awhile takes pictures of these things and nobody ever thinks any different about it because she is a family friend. Mary has decided that she had enough pictures and information that she can finally put her plan into action.

    So mary goes to the family website and starts posting on the SideWiki. She post how bad these parents treat their children and how hungry they always are and etc.. Mary then decides to take things further by posting links to pictures she took and post those pictures on her website along with long made up stories about each picture.

    This entire time Mary is also using the auto twitter and facebook links to share her SideWiki comments and many are noticing these coments and many are posting their opinions and some even bashing the parents. Now Mary wants to go further though because she really hates the mother and father. So Mary calls the department of social services and gives the links to the sidewiki comments, pictures and even makes up her own stories about the daughter being molested, beaten, and etc …

    The worst of it though is D.S.S. also gets 100 more calls from people that seen the SideWiki comments and they called in as concerned people.

    Now department of social services under law must investigate this family. They get involved and they do their so-called investigation and starts to think what Mary said was the truth. So they remove the children under court order and tell the parents theymust do what social services says in order to get their children back.

    Side Note: For those that do not know.. Department of Social Services is the most evil government org ever to be created and they do in fact (yes I said FACT) abuse, sexually abuse, kidnap, and kill 1,000's of children in their care every year. It is a well known fact that 95% of the cases in court are there just because D.S.S. made up lies on the parents and it is also a well known fact that many of these children will never see their own parents again even though their parents did no wrong.

    Back to Mary – Now Mary tells D.S.S. that she is even willing to testify in court that these parents have abused their children and she has seen it. So it goes to court after several months (D.S.S. can hold it up for upto 3 months by law but many never se court for about 6 months and during this time D.S.S. is under no obligation to allow the parents to see their children).

    During this time the parents are forced to pay child support to D.S.S. and that is based at a minimum of minimum wage, it can go a great deal higher. So now these parents struggle to pay their bills because they have a huge payment now to D.S.S. and eventually lose thier home because of it.. Now this fuels the fire for D.S.S. because when they go to court they say these parents are unfit because they can not keep a roof over the children's head..

    And D.S.S. can in fact terminate a parents rights under law just based on the children being in their care for 18 months. Normally many court heaings of this nature can go on for 2 or 3 years.

    So the parents lose their children, their children's lives are ruined and they are abused in foster care…

    All because SideWiki allowed these comments next to a site and 100's of other people seen these comments and went along with the crowd and thought what was posted was the truth..

    So this entire innocent family lost everything..

    Now I condensed this story down a great bit as I could write an entire book on this but the point being is if that does not scare the hell out of you I do not know what does. This tool is pure evil itself no matter how much you try to justify its use for “end users” … Mary is an end user and destroyed an entire family based on her jealousy…

    Could Mary have done this on her own site? Well sure but the comments with SideWiki fuels the fire and gets it going viral massively in a short amount of time and since the comments are next to the site they are more believable..

    Anyone that claims this does not happen or can not happen, I am glad you live under a rock.. The rest of us live in the real world..”

  • Will Bontrager

    Dan, thanks for that.

    When I had tested earlier, regular JavaScript frame breaking code didn't work and I developed a work-around. Now, it does.

    To break out of frames at Google, here is the JavaScript:


    Put the above into a SCRIPT tag.

    The higher on the page the JavaScript is located, the faster the redirect. The first line below the HEAD tag is ideal for most pages.

    To redirect Google Toolbars version 6 (the one with Sidewiki) use this JavaScript (4 lines):

    if( navigator.userAgent.indexOf('GTB6') > 0 )
    location.href = “”;

    Change to the URL of the page to redirect the browser to.

    As before, put it into a SCRIPT tag and the higher on the page the JavaScript is located, the faster the redirect.


  • 4ndyman

    Don't forget to switch from Google search to something else — Bing or Yahoo or (better still) GoodSearch!

  • Leah Dubyk

    Why is Google referred to as one big giant entity or machine? You hear about the Fortin's Blog, Will the Master of Scripts, the Callen's Blinkweb, Harlan's Tactic 7 or 10, so WHO is GOOGLE?

    That's where this SideWalk problem started and that's where it will end — when the HUMAN beings, the PEOPLE directly responsible for making the decisions are addressed. The people running Google are no more powerful than all the people running 12+ year old Marketing businesses out here, are they?.

    I'm just guessing but I don't think the Google Top Dawgs are hearing anything but screaming
    and yelling when they happen to be close enough to notice the commotion. Then they get called away to something else before having time to get an accurate reading — so they ignore what time will eventually take care of anyway.

    If you want answers go straight to the TOP…the place where YOU already are! I have no idea if there are rules that say you can't talk to Google decision makers but that wouldn't make much sense. People are people so talk to the people — that would be real funny if there were just 1 or 2 power trippers doing all this simply because they can! Somebody really needs to check on that.

    Controlling over 90% marketshare is because everyone supports them – people follow the
    Leaders and go where they go. If Google has so much control, it's because YOU and your
    followers hand it over to them…so I say, SYLVIE — you go girl!! Take back the Control… before
    it really gets out of hand!

    BTW – I have no clue what the sidewalki is or how to use it —
    most people probably don't even know about it. The ones
    who abuse it would find a way to do what they do with or
    without this thing. It should be invitation only if it's there
    but Hey — that's for YOU guys to figure out and let us know!

  • Pingback: More on Sidewiki « Malleable Musings()

  • Sylvie Fortin

    Will Bontrager has kindly tracked the actual percentage of traffic that comes to his websites that has Google Sidewiki installed.

    For those of you who may still be saying that this isn't a big deal and that “no one will end up using it anyway”, think again. Currently, the statistics are showing that over 14% of traffic is using it. 14%!!!

    Do you not understand what this means?

    14% have adopted this “feature”, and the tool has only been launched about a MONTH.

    Wow. Even for Google, that sets a record.

  • Michel Fortin

    Google is revealing how people are ignorant. Less than 8% of people surveyed by Google themselves knew what a “browser” is.

    And now they expect people to know the difference between a website and Sidewiki???



    This is posted on a pharmaceutical marketing blog:
    “If someone writes of an adverse event on a Sidewiki, or promotes an off-label use, it is now on the company’s home page.”

    It is irrelevant whether the author believes “it is now on the homepage” or that it will be seen as such. But the post is concerned with site owner liability for sidewiki entries, as it should be.

    Litigation looms inevitable, lets hope *our* attorney takes the Big G to task, along with the responsible wiki poster for example's sake.

    It is sad, no, depressing, to know someone will have a catastrophic, life-threatening or worse event that might lead to some degree of correction for this situation. I hope I never have the opportunity to say “I told you so” (and I won't). But the stage is set.



    This is posted on a pharmaceutical marketing blog:
    “If someone writes of an adverse event on a Sidewiki, or promotes an off-label use, it is now on the company’s home page.”

    It is irrelevant whether the author believes “it is now on the homepage” or that it will be seen as such. But the post is concerned with site owner liability for sidewiki entries, as it should be.

    Litigation looms inevitable, lets hope *our* attorney takes the Big G to task, along with the responsible wiki poster for example's sake.

    It is sad, no, depressing, to know someone will have a catastrophic, life-threatening or worse event that might lead to some degree of correction for this situation. I hope I never have the opportunity to say “I told you so” (and I won't). But the stage is set.


  • Pingback: Google Sidewiki – Another PR nightmare? | Revium | Web Developers, Web Design, Melbourne()

  • Amelm

    Please send Your Feedback to Google about the Sidwiki.

    I really recommend to all website owners to claim the ownership of their sidewiki and to go to the following google page and leave a comment:

    Here's the comment I submitted to Google:

    This tool can cause irreparable damage to reputations and businesses when used by spammers.
    The opportunity for abuse is VERY HIGH with google sidewiki.
    Google should give us a way to opt out our own websites OR the right to moderate comments related to our own domains.

    Hope this will help!
    I wish you all the best

  • annavera

    Thanks Alelm. I tool your advice and left the following comment at the link you provided:

    “I request Sidewiki be abolished or be severely modified.

    From the viewpoint of a visitor, sidewiki looks just like a part of a webmaster's website. According to a survey done on Google and posted on YouTube, most people don't even know what a browser is, let alone a browser addon.

    A webmaster owns his domain and has the right to decide what appears on his webpages.

    But, in effect, Sidewiki adds a section to a webmaster's website which uses up his site real estate and which HE HAS NO CONTROL OVER.

    The webmaster can not decide whether he wants to opt in to accept Sidewiki on his site. He is not given a choice.

    He can not even moderate the comments which appear on his website.

    This tool can be used for the following purposes:

    - To blackmail a webmaster (if you don't ___ I will write ___ on your sidewiki).

    - To cause accidents, injury, and death (a “prankster” writes off-label instructions on a pharmaceutical website, saying to take X drug in such-and-such a fashion. Result: Visitors who think this is part of the actual official website can overdose, wrongly mix drugs, and worse. The visitor gets ill or dies, the webmaster get sued.)

    - To control and bias the apparency of public opion – all one has to do is get control of the moderators. Comments of one viewpoint get deleted, comments of the opposing viewpoint get approved. Voila, the internet and the projected “viewpoints of the people” can now be controlled by vested interests.

    - To steal – a webmaster creates a sales page for his product and drives traffic to it. The thief adds comments to the sidewiki, with a link to his own sales page for the same or similar product, and thus redirects some traffic to his own page to earn money as a parasite.

    I could say more but I think anyone else could think of a myriad of other examples.

    Until the day Sidewiki was created I had nothing but good things to say about Google … and all I can say now is, remember, don't be evil. Whether intentionally or otherwise.”

  • matt kanninen

    Welcome to the internet! You are upset Google made something people are doing anyway easier? Have you even heard of social networking before?

    The system is definitely not perfect yet. It is possible for users to abuse the system, if they choose….. just like any system! Meanwhile it's a great check to balance a lot of other abuses on the internet. If you get directed to a harmful webpage… you can now warn other users about exactly what happened to you! Hurrah!

    • SamTrenholme

      Thankfully, the internet and Google did not agree with Matt; the abomination that was SideWiki died a much deserved death back in 2011. For people worried about unsafe sites, “Web of Trust” allows people to rank sites and other people to see site rankings in a cross-browser plugin that, unlike SideWiki, does not encourage spammers or trolls, and does not pretend to be the content on third party web sites.

  • matt kanninen

    Sidewiki does not look like part of a website. It's a toolbar plugin. You have to install the plugin separately, and you have to click on the toolbar to access it.

    It is a lot like if Google did magically create an empty lot next to every house, and filled the empty lot with whiteboards. Sure some people will just put up graffiti, but everyone ignores graffiti. People will also post valid complaints, suggestions, and praise!

    And we will all know which houses to avoid.

    • SamTrenholme

      Now that it’s 2014 and SideWiki was killed nearly three years ago — and I think a lot the reason it died was because of the backlash from webmasters — I would like to point out that what Matt wanted is available in a cross-browser plugin called “Web of Trust”. WoT, unlike Sidebar, goes out of its way to not appear to be part of the websites it ranks, and is a viable and useful service today, unlike the now-thankfully-dead abomination that was SideWiki.

  • Rauf Arshad

    Sylvie Fortin : Mam Can u explain the real purpose of the Google Sidewiki so that see what i have to be benifited from it .

    I am blogger and have to check the daily traffic where it comes mostly .

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