Posted On: Wednesday, 30 September 2009 by Rajiv Popat

My First Introduction To SideWiki.

A few days ago I was emailed by folks at Google; targeting selected bloggers; who asked me if I would be interested in getting more information about a product they were about to launch. If I was interested; I would be sent a gift package that would give me more information about the product.

When the package arrived; what I was expecting to find was a DVD with a Power-Point presentation; a video or other marketing material about a new Google Product.

What I found instead; was a seriously beautiful example of story telling from Google. Something Seth Godin would call a purple cow.

The one; and only thing the package contained; was a copy of - "Sailing Alone Around The Room" by Billy Collins.

That's it.

Nothing else.

When you're expecting a product demonstration DVD or a manual; finding a best selling book containing a collection of poems is a purple cow that grabs you by your collar and gets all your attention.

As I fiddled with the book scrolling through it; I noticed the corner of one page folded neatly as if someone was reading the book. The page had the poem marginalia:

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive -
"Nonsense." "Please!" "HA!!" -
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote "Don't be a ninny"
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls "Metaphor" next to a stanza of Eliot's.
Another notes the presence of "Irony"
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
"Absolutely," they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
"Yes." "Bull's-eye." "My man!"
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines

Lying lose; right next to the poem was a small-yet-beautiful-post-it-note from the SideWiki team at Google.

Every page on the web is missing one crucial voice. Yours.

Were you ever reading a web page and realized you had a particular insight or annotation to add?

We wondered what the web would be like if everyone could contribute this way.

Google SideWiki,

Now that; dear reader; is what can be called seriously interesting story-telling.

All you need to know about a product; using a book of poems with the page folded at one legendary poem; and a post it note. 

My introduction to SideWiki had all the elements any organization should use to introduce their products to their users.

There was the element of suspense; shock and surprise. Then there was the whole act of involvement; as I fiddled through the book and tried to figure out why-would Google send me a collection of poems. Having said all of that; what I loved most about the whole episode; was Google's respect for my; or should we say their user's; intelligence and not trying to 'sell' too hard by giving me a stupid power-point presentation on how amazing SideWiki was.

I; dear reader; was sold.

The Product

So; yes; Google pulled off an amazing act of story-telling and grabbed my attention. Enough to get me to the SideWiki website. But then; I would not be writing this if the product itself was not strong enough to complement the amazing thought and effort that then went into getting the product to me.

I; dear reader; am writing this; which clearly goes on to mean that SideWiki is amazing.

If I can be honest here; I loved the idea and the implementation as much as I loved the way the product was marketed to me.

Now that the folks at Google have indulged in the act weaving a seriously amazing story around SideWiki already; let me; dear reader; take the mere mortal route of traditionally plugging the product and recommending that you give it a shot too.

For someone like me; who is always nudging people to participate and contribute; SideWiki is interesting because it allows people to contribute without working hard on their writing skills; signing up for a blog; or whining about the fact that they don't have time or anything interesting to say.

If you don't read anything interesting; or have nothing to scribble along the margins of the pages you are reading; you seriously need to question whether you are an active internet user or just a leach.

Now go get SideWiki; go to your favorite website and participate by providing the web pages your very own personal perspective.

My Gripes

Ok; flawless marketing of the idea; awesome product; but there are areas about the product which make you knit you brow. While I am at it I thought I might just as well list my gripes about the product. Everything else about the product; that isn't listed here as a gripe; dear reader; I like.

Ready for the gripes?

Here we go.

Please Don't Replace Stuff By Default.

SideWiki makes me install a bloat of other applications. At-least it seems like it does. The default installation went ahead and decided that it wanted to modify my taskbar and add a Google search functionality on to it.

Yes; I love Google like we all do; but I really don't want a Google logo on my taskbar. I've always held the opinion that typing 'iexplore' is faster that reaching out for the mouse. Seriously.

Long story short; gripe number one; is simple; it's 'my' desktop.

Leave it alone.

At-least in the default installation.

I Love SideWiki But The Toolbar Is Complicated And Boring.

As much as I love SidiWiki; I don't like the Google Toolbar all that much. It's childish; has way too much clutter and lacks the classic Google simplicity. It is complex and it is confusing. The least Google can do on this front is; reduce the clutter; improve the icon quality; figure out the services I really use and hide everything else.  Yes; I know you can remove these buttons by using the toolbar-settings; but the default configuration makes the toolbar look way too cluttered.

Put simply; unlike most Google products; the Google toolbar looks complex at the first glance and I am not so sure that's a good thing.

No Spell Check Support

Everyone who knows me or reads this blog probably knows that I'm not that much into spellings. Having said that I hate it when I make spelling mistakes. A decent spelling-checker into SideWiki plug-in would have been an interesting feature to have.

Currently the comment text box seems like yet another boring text-box that does not do anything intelligent.

No Chrome Version.

Other than these; it would have been amazing to have a Chrome version; but then there are enough people whining about that already; so I will leave that one out of my list of official gripes.

And My Very Own Personal Wish-List

Not sure if these are already a part of SideWiki; if they are; enlighten me; dear reader; by leaving in a comment and this post will be updated accordingly.

If; however; these are not a part of SideWiki already here is my personal wish-list of features for the product.

If there was a way to get RSS feeds for SideWiki entries on a per-page basis that would have been amazing. There are multiple organizations, sites and pages that I would like to subscribe to and get constant feeds of what people are saying about the pages. Currently I cannot seem to find an easy way of doing that with SideWiki. [updated information available at the end of the page]

There is something about having hyperlinks to your Twitter posts which makes twitter special. Features where I can at-least get permanent links or URLs of SideWiki comments; would have made SideWiki golden. [updated information available at the end of the page]

Besides; if I own a website; I cant seem to get one consolidated page or feed where I get to see everything people are saying about my domain using SideWiki. That; dear reader; is also one feature that would be amazing to have.

The Overall Verdict

Like I said; If I was not pleased with what I saw; and if I would not have loved it; I would not have spent my time writing this review.

I highly recommend anyone who reads this to go download a copy and start participating and contributing.

Oh; and by the way; please don't tell me you do not have the time to blog; or nothing interesting to say; because now we will all know that is just an excuse.

Update (Based on response received on Oct-6): Heard back from folks at Google that sidewiki already has some of the features which I asked for in my wish-list; particularly RSS feeds and permanent links; more information on that is available here or on the sidewiki page of this post. 

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