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Conversations over the garden fence – to respond or not to respond, that is the question!

Alex Christie

28 September 2009

The ideas behind and ways to leverage user generated content have been discussed at length by both distinguished web commentators and novices alike, yet for me it is still very much a grass roots movement.  User comments and forum usage continue to grow exponentially and the reach of UGC extends deep into many websites, now becoming a recognised part of the buying cycle and valuable sales tool.  However despite the additional insight, opinions and useful observations, you still come across the completely pointless and often offensive comments that really lower the tone of the conversation.  This in many ways is accentuated by UGC’s very success, navigating through the mire and jumping from conversation to conversation makes the information less available and considerably more convoluted.  Indeed many previously popular forums are now simply a place where irritated and often rather misguided individuals air their gripes, often articulated with such venom that they would not look out of place if they were being articulated by a speaker standing on the corner of Hyde Park!

So the obvious question is how do companies deal with this content, respond or not, perhaps even contact the individual directly?  As you would expect there is no easy answer to this, and the response would vary drastically depending on your business model.  To make the decision even more complex there are strong case studies to support both trains of thought.

sidewiki

Its no real wonder then, given the ever increasing demand for user comments, that Google would want to try and get in on the action.  In its desire ‘to organise and make useful all the worlds information’ and of course completing the relatively trivial the task of ‘doing no evil’ it has released Sidewiki.  It is essentially a toolbar extension that allows users to make comments on the websites, others who have the toolbar installed can then view these and if they wish also contribute.  The more sceptical among us would say this is just another way for Google to control online conversations and generate additional revenue from ad placements – in essence an all-encompassing data mining exercise.  As with online organisations possibly the biggest challenge Google will face is how to keep the spammers out, closely followed by the current number of people that will have the Tool Bar installed and actually want to make informed commentary on a site.  This is no easy task, especially considering the BBC only manages to get 1% of its audience to make notes on its news stories.  Indeed as with most things of this nature, it will be history that decides what happens to Sidewiki, but we know Google does face a real battle.

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