03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Attack of the Sidewiki

Google made an update to their beloved Toolbar two weeks ago that should scare the bejeesus out of digital marketers everywhere -- the Sidewiki. In short, the Sidewiki allows opted-in Google Toolbar users to comment on and read other's comments on any website that they visit. That's right, anyone can comment on anything at any website they visit, completely independent of the website owner. Oy.

Once activated the Sidewiki sits neatly on the side of every browser window, beckoning you to click it with a small caption box and arrows. Once clicked the window expands to take up roughly 20% of your window, forcing the site you are viewing (in most cases) to horizontally scroll. Because the Sidewiki is actually an add on to the web browser as opposed to the website, any comments written on it are controlled by Google, not the site owner; so unlike a local forum or message board site owners don't have the ability to immediately delete any negative comments. Case in point, upon launch, Microsoft was described as "useless" and "crap" on and Apple was described as lying and shipping products with "sever bugs" on And here's the other catch: as the site owner you don't even get to choose whether or not your visitors see Sidewiki.

Google's spin on the Sidewiki: it allows you to contribute, "expert insights, helpful tips, background information" and "added perspective" alongside any web page. Maybe I'm just a naturally jaded New Yorker, but I read this as, "Sidewiki allows any griefer, competitor, racist or 15 year old with time on his hands to trash your brand, detail how someone can hack your game and/or tell you how much you suck." Furthermore, since when do we consider anyone with an Internet connection to be an "expert?" Oh yeah, since Twitter was invented.

Commenting has always been part of the web, but it's never been so centralized. Because of Google's reach, tens of millions of people (if not more) will now be giving their two cents on everything with Google controlling the database. I know they're not supposed to "be evil," but it seems to me this is more than just a play to one up Twitter's current monopoly on up to the minute opinions. Couldn't this be Google's ploy to take control over some of the most relevant data on the planet? How much will people be willing to pay for real time consumer feedback and sales leads? More importantly, how much will site publishers need to start forking over to stay ahead of this curve?