Annotate the Web: Google Launches Sidewiki

Over the years, numerous companies have offeredservices that allowed users to annotate web pages. Now, with a new project called Sidewiki, Google is going to join the fray as well. Sidewiki, which will be distributed with a special version of the Google Toolbar for Firefox and Internet Explorer, allows users to publicly annotate any page on the web. Entries will then be sorted by an algorithm that filters out low-quality comments and moves the most interesting items to the top.

The sorting algorithm and Sidewiki’s ability to display notes about the same topic on various sites make Sidewiki somewhat unique. Google uses a quote from a speech by President Obama as an example here. Sidewiki will recognize the quote on multiple sites and aggregate them together, no matter whether somebody commented on this quote on Little Green Footballs or Daily Kos. You can also leave a comment about the entire page, of course.

For some popular sites that haven’t been annotated yet, Google will also pop up a notification that comments exist, but the sidebar will actually be filled with related blog posts, which is another feature that makes Google stand out from the competition in this field.

API: Making SideWiki a Universal Commenting System

A lot of companies have tried to offer similar services and the ones that have succeeded did so because they focused on a very specialized market. We will have to see where this Google project goes in the long run, but unlike a lot of other companies that offered annotation features, Google will offer an API for Sidewiki. The Sidewiki Data API will give developers the ability to access all of these comments and include them on their own sites or in a widget, for example.

How Will Google Use this Data?

We can’t help but wonder how Google will use the data it gathers from this service. After all, there is often valuable information in comments. Google, for example, could use sentiment analysis to see its users’ reactions to a page and then influence search results accordingly. The company could also expose some of this data in the search results. Outside of Sidewiki, Google currently only exposes annotations in a user’s Google Profile.

Right now, when a forum post appears in Google, it will display some extra data about how many posts there are and how many authors contributed. Google could do something similar for every page with Sidewiki – though chances are that third-party developers will quickly build a Firefox addon or Greasemonkey script that will do the same within a few days from now.

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