Google has launched Sidewiki, an annotation service for web pages. There is already some discussion of how it might be used. I see it as a natural extension of Google’s desire to put trust to work, and that means a new premium marketing opportunity.
Google has invested heavily in identifying individual people. Google requires a Google account for most services, which it ties to an individual using whatever data it can obtain (IP, email address, credit card data, toolbar web activity, etc). The user is the key to trust, and Google is investing heavily in an accountable web (as compared to an anonymous web). Add in cookies and local storage objects (LSO) it obtains from Doubleclick, Adsense, and Google Analytics, and you have to recognize Google can track users.
Just as it seems clear that Google has moved beyond web sites and started to catalog/index brands or companies (based on trust metrics, as is evident from Google local activities over the past year or so), Google wants to know people. Webmasters as well as users. Google’s trust of wikipedia, Google Profiles and Google Knoll add to the picture… who is known, who is known to be known, known to be respected, known to be active, known to be a spammer, etc. Trust is huge for Google.
And now Google, with Sidewiki, can explore the ability to collect opinions from trusted individuals. Opinions may produce additional knowledge to be used in assigning relevance (”I used SiteA to plan my trip to Ecuador”) or ranking (Sidewiki on Orbitz may be full of comparisons to Expedia or Travelocity).
I’m thinking a trusted individual, known to Google, is increasingly eligible to bring hir recommendations to the marketplace for a fee. The more we see Google slap bloggers who take money to push products or make recommendations, the more value we must assume those recommendations carry. The offline world moved to celebrity endorsements successfully, so why not online, too?
Google is trying to play gatekeeper, judge, and jury when it comes to online celebrity. Quick.. name an online celebrity who can’t be found in Google. The only ones you can recall are probably the ones who gaind fame for getting slapped by Google. The rest? Do they even exist? (sarcasm)
Thus far Google has felt free to stifle online celebrities that are known only for their online celebrity (by banning them for related activities, such as pushing products). Lately, that slippery slope has gotten very slippery, with Google broadening its language concerning “sponsorship” and even calling on the FTC to get involved.
The thinkers out there should think through the end game consequences…what makes a brand? What makes an online celebrity? What are the trust factors? And perhaps most importantly, why do we as a society say the consumer is not misled when Tiger Woods says he chooses to drink Cherry Gatorade, but might be misled when a blogger says she uses a new hair product?
Google Sidewiki… another tool for your online marketer’s toolbox.