I agree with Jeff Jarvis’ critique of Google’s Sidewiki.
Sidewiki is ThirdVoice yet again. Both let you write and read comments on a site — actually on the site — so long as you have the proprietary client. ThirdVoice failed mainly because it couldn’t get enough people to install its client. (Of course, one could ask why enough people weren’t interested in this.) Sidewiki might succeed because it’s part of the vastly popular Google Toolbar. And, as Jeff says, that means it might succeed because Google is using its near ubiquity as a center of the Net. Which is troubling. For example, again as Jeff reports, insofar as the commentary on his site about his Sidewiki post occurs in Sidewiki, Google now owns the comments on his post. Troubling.
I think there are reasons to doubt Sidewiki’s success. As more people add comments, we need good ways to sort through them, to eliminate spam, to decide which types of comments are useful to us. Google is promising us algorithms. But algorithms won’t know that I don’t particularly want to read comments about my friend Jeff’s character, but I am particularly interested in what technologists are saying, or about Net politics, or what my friends are saying, or about how to hack Sidewiki.
Sidewiki has its uses. I’d rather see it connected to social networks, and I’d rather see it provided as an open source browser add-in. But I don’t know who should own the comments and what the control mechanisms should be. This is one of the edges of the Web that defies easy answers because it’sso hard to tell what is the center and what are the sides.