Sidewiki Just a Less Fun Weblins

I decided to check out Google’s newest toy today. If you haven’t heard of Sidewiki yet, you will. Google says it will enable us all to “help and learn from others as you browse the web.”

Their example of it in action is rather optimistic. They show a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) page where “Doctors add detailed expert insights on heart disease prevention.” I’ll believe it when I see it.

On the sidewiki comments of that same page, however, someone brings up an interesting idea: a global “user rank” meter below each commenter’s name so we can see how well each user’s overall comments fair across sites.

That sounds like a community. Something John Battelle made a point to say Google is not good at: “But as much as I love the idea of SideWiki, I’m skeptical of it for one simple reason: Google isn’t in the community business, and SideWiki, if it’s going to work, needs to either A/be driven by communities or B/Needs to be embraced as a standard by publishers, who are the proxy for communities.”

Like an unmoderated community, many suspect it will simply be filled with snarky comments, trolls and a term I rather like “web graffiti.” Jeff Jarvis worried it would take comments off his blog itself and into the sidelines robbing his site of its value. And, The IT Chronicle notes how it is open to abuse by spammers, in the same way Google’s Searchwiki has been.

A quick look at the three comments seen on my employer’s site today would back that up (click the image to see the full size):
Dell website with Sidewiki

Still, many marketing/branding/PR/reputation management gurus are going to say it is a big deal. Some are even using Sidewiki to say it:
Issac Pigott sidewiki comment

I think I’m going to take a wait-and-see approach. Certainly it is something to keep an eye on, but if it fills up with nothing but spammy comments and trolls, it won’t be useful and our customers won’t bother to look. And, without an active community, I suspect it will be nothing more than a less fun version of Weblins.  Remember them?

Weblins launched in early 2007 and enabled you to create an avatar of yourself that appeared that on any web page you viewed. You could also see and interact with the avatars of any other Weblin users who happened to be on that page at the same time.

Many saw promise in the “co-presence” it allowed and the way it could be another step toward a 3D internet; but I rarely saw others on the pages I was surfing when I used it, and when I did there was no real conversation happening. In the end, it just became annoying to have it blocking my view of the bottom of the page and I uninstalled. Recently, they’ve retooled Weblins as Club Cooee – another 3D chat like IMVU or, dare I say, Google Lively?

A Happy Place for Brands on Facebook

I know I’ve talked here before about being an early adopter of new technologies, and I was very honored to be called out as a “social media maven” last spring, but I have a confession to make.

I was late to the Facebook party. Last week Facebook announced that it has surpassed the 300 million user mark.  I did beat a lot of those people into this social network, and was early enough that I don’t think I’d count in the “white flight” from MySpace (which I never joined just because the UI was too painful!)

No, what finally got me on Facebook was the chance to play Scrabulous with some of my Twitter friends.  Beyond that small group, almost every other person I initially “friended” on the network worked with me at Dell. It was the more fun LinkedIn, if you will.

Then about a year later, it seemed that old high school and college friends started popping out of the woodwork and suddenly my network moved from mostly professional to more personal.

It got real personal recently when my mother suffered a stroke while driving to come visit me. After my brother called with the news, I hesitated only a moment before cross-posting a tweet to Facebook that asked for prayers for her. Might seem strange to some who are focused only on how to use the platforms for marketing, but for those of us who really participate in conversations and friendships, it seemed only natural to reach out.

Mom parasailing with my nephew in South Padre this summer.

(that’s my mom in a happy place parasailing with my nephew this summer)

I was heartened to see all the well-wishes in both Twitter and Facebook, but definitely noticed a trend. That initial mention, and the updates that came often from an ICU waiting room over the next couple of weeks, definitely received more interaction in Facebook.

It could be due to the higher number of old friends on Facebook who know my whole family. I did grow up in a very small town. As news spread, even more of my mother’s friends and people I’d not talked to since grade school suddenly connected with me.

It could be because on Twitter I have a higher number of casual acquaintances on Twitter than Facebook. Or, it could simply be that tweets come too fast and furious and it is easier to miss updates in Twitter – especially if you follow very many people.

Today, Todd Defren spelled out a couple of very good reasons marketers should take a light approach to Facebook.  I agree with both, and would also add my experience as a third.

While I certainly enjoy getting special deals from Papa John’s in Facebook, that’s only a side bonus. It certainly isn’t what is driving me to spend time in Facebook and I don’t think any corporate brand could make that personal connection, no matter how much time they invest interacting there.

I’m not saying there’s no benefit. But, I think that small businesses have the biggest opportunity. Like my local cupcake-craving cure Cupprimo. Owner Amy is actively involved in Facebook personally and as a business, soliciting new cupcake names and flavors from her fans. She also tweets and uses Youpons, but all of those are things the big brand could do too. The difference is, I can drive a few blocks and talk to Amy in person and that deepens our connection. The manager at my local Papa John’s isn’t the person I’m hearing from on Facebook, so the real life connection never gets made.

That’s why I really like my own company’s Facebook page that focuses on helping Dell’s small and medium business customers harness the power of social media to reach and serve their customers. It’s only one of the many approaches the company has taken with Facebook. Few if any of them will allow the personal, real life connection I’ve experienced; but, at least one will help others do it themselves and find that happy place for their brand.