Image by quinn.anya via Flickr
If you haven’t already encountered Google’s newly released Sidewiki, it is a web annotation feature accessible via browser plug-in or their toolbar – and is essentially a means for people to comment on pages and, unlike tools for making notes for just yourself (like sticky notes on your screen, or the electronic equivalent), these comments are visible to others who use it and visit those pages – right on the page with the content. This isn’t a new concept, but one that gives cause to consider the “traditional” dimensions of web experience.Generally speaking, users of web resources have typically thought of the pages they view as being depicted in the way intended by the owner of the domain (or page). If we want to get philosophical, ownership of the rendering of the page, it could be argued, is the user’s – and plug-ins empower such customization, as this is referred to.
Image via CrunchBase
Similarly, functionality of a site is has typically been considered by users to be provided/delivered by, and/or controlled by the site owner. In the context of beginning to think of rendering as being other-webly (i.e. from other than the provider), the same holds true with respect to functionality. The functionality being added to the experience here is around the ability to comment, and to see comments of others, about the page.
This starts to bring home the concept that the browser is acting as the actual platform, rather than the page/site itself. In this case, we’re talking about the bringing together of the page’s content with toughts or opinions about the page – or about things that are on the page. So in essence, what sidewiki adds is a virtualized forum – where the forum content is in the hands of Google rather than those of the owner of the site – but is displayed alongside the content itself.
Image via CrunchBase
This is not altogether different from what AdaptiveBlue’s Glue does – though there are a couple of key difference. In both cases the user must be using the plug-in in order to see or add content – akin to joining the community. And in both cases the comment / opinion content that is generated as a result, is in the control of the plug-in provider. The first, and most notable difference (for now, at least) is that sidewiki “acts” as if the user generated content is about the page which it annotates, while Glue’s emphasis is on the asset to which the page refers. The key benefit of the latter, in the cases where the commentary relates to an asset referenced on the page, is that it decouples the item referred to from location which makes reference to it. This translates to Glue displaying the comment on any page in where the same item is found, as opposed to just being seen on the same page where the comment was made. This difference won’t likely persist, and seems more a matter of emphasis/focus and positioning.
Since the annotations are only visible to users making use of the particular service used when making the annotations, the more of these services we see, the more fragmented the sea of commentary. The next level may be about “aboutness”, and differentiation by the ability to determine relatedness of otherwise unassociated commentary and content – and making the virtual connection between the two for the user.
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