When Google’s Sidewiki was announced, I began a small experiment – posting factual but mildly-controversial entries on two websites – Facebook.com and Foxnews.com. On Facebook, I talked about the ease of use of the site but also about the site’s repeated controversies over protecting the privacy of its users. On Fox News, I deliberately avoided the value judgments about whether or not the organization is biased (like most of the other entries) and instead cited two studies that demonstrate that Fox News viewers tend to be the most poorly-informed of all of the major news networks.
After waiting for a week, these are the results thus far:
Facebook.com: Currently my entry is the first entry listed for Facebook, likely a result of having garnered six “useful” votes. Interesting about Facebook’s Sidewiki entries is that many of them (13 total) are from non-English speakers (Spanish, Italian, French). Facebook Sidewiki entries have many fewer “yes” or “no” votes on entries when compared to Foxnews.com (likely as a result of the fact that it’s less controversial than an entity such as Fox News).
- Total Entries on Site: 62
- Positive / Negative / Neutral Ratio: 18 / 6 / 16
- Ranking of my Entry: Useful? Yes (6) No (0)
- Spam Entries: 9 (14.5%)
Fox News: My entry appears first in the listing Fox News, likely a result of being one of the only entries that has more “yes” votes for being useful (the other entry with more positive votes is an entry that is overtly negative, as are the majority of the other entries). Interestingly, some discussions are taking place as users comment on each other’s entries; one user named “Joe G” even responded to my post (incorrectly attempting to debunk the 2003 PIPA study I cited, not realizing that the study was conducted back in 2003 before any conventional WMDs were discovered in Iraq).
- Total Entries on Site: 25
- Positive / Negative / Neutral Ratio: 9 / 10 / 6
- Ranking of my Entry: Useful? Yes (25) No (19)
- Spam Entries: 1 (4%)
It’s likely too early to tell how this will play out given that there are only a very limited number of users (and thusly a very skewed sample frame) of users who have jumped through the hoops necessary to start using Sidewiki. The dynamic will likely change if it catches on and the adoption rate increases. Thus far it does not appear that censorship is necessarily a problem – however this could be a result of the hosting sites’ inability to influence Facebook or their lack of awareness about their Sidewiki entries.
There are some interesting observations to be made:
- Spam: For high-traffic sites like Facebook, spam is already proving to be an issue (14 percent of the Facebook sidewiki entries were spam; and fairly obviously spam – there were many other entries I classified as “neutral” because they weren’t overtly related to Facebook but also were not overtly advertisements).
- Reconciling Content: One of the problems of Sidewiki is that one domain may have multiple, disparate Sidewiki pages full of entries. For example, the discussion in the Sidewiki entry for Facebook.com while one is logged out is different from the Sidewiki entry for Facebook.com when one is logged in (and the “logged-in” page has vastly more entries as a result of more people spending time there). I’ve posted the same entry to the “logged in” Sidewiki page on Facebook so we’ll see where that goes.
- Language Barrier: Google may need to come up with some way to separate Sidewiki pages by language; it may be that legitimate entries posted in another language could be marginalized (and voted down) by the predominantly English-speaking audience of sites like Facebook.
- Restrictions on Dialogue: The interface of Sidewiki makes it difficult to have discussions and back-and-forth about entry content. (For example, if I were to respond to “Joe G,” I would either have to clutter up my existing entry, or create a separate entry which would exist apart from my original entry and arguably be less relevant – and likely voted down – as it does not directly refer to Fox News).
- Recency Bias for Larger Sites: When one creates an entry for an established page with many entries, that entry does not appear on the first page, rather it is placed deeper within the site. The presumption is that through merit, the entry will rise in the ranks if it is deemed worthy by Sidewiki users – however this introduces the problem on the more highly-trafficked sites that good content may have trouble unless people are willing to slog through all of the content about those sites in order to “mine” them for good content. Sidewiki will work for smaller sites with fewer comments, but as the number of comments scales with the traffic to the site – the current merit system breaks down.