Google's Sidewiki and the real innovations

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When Google launched Sidewiki in September, pharma professionals were up in arms over managing the fallout. Giving patients and doctors the ability to post comments about adverse events and off-label use directly on brand websites had enormous implications for the industry. Since that time, discussions in Google's forums have slowed to a crawl, and many companies have implemented SSL certificates on their sites in an effort to disable Sidewiki.

Sidewiki may be the most controversial entry into the field of site commenting services, but it isn't the first, or the most innovative. Kutano, maker of the popular Firefox sidebar plug-in, displays Sidewiki and Twitter entries about a page or site and has expanded its reach to almost all browsers. Feature for feature, Kutano is a step ahead of Google. But Reframe It, a 15-person startup headed by Bobby Fishkin, has provided a service similar to Sidewiki for over a year, with additional features such as Facebook and Twitter integration.

Google, despite being technologically a step or two behind, has one thing Kutano and Reframe It don't: volume. It's this larger user base that makes the industry nervous about Sidewiki. Google is also a household brand, so the opportunity for comments to influence consumers spreads exponentially.

According to November's eWEEK, Reframe It accuses Google of copying the service and product right down to the position of its buttons. Terry Winograd, an advisory board member, confirms that Google was aware of Reframe It in July 2008, and they were interested. Shortly after that, six Google team members began using ReFrame It.

Then, two days before Sidewiki's launch, Google tried to acquire Reframe It's lead engineer and co-founder, Ben Taitelbaum.

However, Reframe It is succeeding at monetizing its technologies, an area of historical difficulty for Google's more innovating solutions. By including ads with comments in a sidebar, Reframe It will allow companies to advertise on any site. It is expected this advertising will also be community specific, allowing marketers to target specific user bases, just like WebMD does with Yahoo!.

Suddenly, the specter of unmoderated comments becomes less of a worry when compared to the potential opportunities of these emerging technologies. It's only a matter of time before Google catches up.

Benjamin Curtis is strategist, MicroMass Communications

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