Google Sidewiki Is GOOGjacking the World Wide Web

[NOTE: This post was originally published on the old JoshNotes.com blog on October 27, 2009.]

What Is Google Sidewiki?

First there was framejacking. Framejacking is what happens when another website tries to frame your content on their own website/URL by putting it in a frame. Prominent framejacking websites include About.com, Stumbleupon (su.pr) and Hootsuite (ow.ly). Framejacking is a violation of a user’s browser because it hijacks the user’s address bar and it violates your website because it hijacks your URLs. Framejacking is annoying, but individual websites can defend against framejacking by popping out of the HTML frames with JavaScript.

Now there is GOOGjacking (not to be confused with Googlejacking, which is the hijacking of SERPs through 302 redirects). GOOGjacking is when Google’s new Sidewiki product puts Google’s proprietary commenting system on top of your website without your permission, with no way for you to opt out.

Installing the Google toolbar with Searchwiki

How Google Sidewiki Works

The way Google Sidewiki works is that users download and install the Google Toolbar (Firefox and IE only). Then they can click a button to open a sidebar that only exists within Google’s software, independently of the World Wide Web. Sidewiki users can post comments about your websites that are displayed on top of your website without your permission. That means competitors and vandals are free to post negative statements about you or your sites that will display alongside your websites and you have virtually no control over it.

The screenshot below shows Google Sidewiki next to a webpage. Sidewiki is running inside of Google Toolbar on top of, and separate from, the webpage.

Google Sidewiki Screenshot

At the moment, Google Sidewiki has a limited effect, because it only works with the Google Toolbar in Firefox and Internet Explorer, but Google is coming out with an operating system, and they also have a browser that is gaining market share. In the near future, Google may have the ability to spread Sidewiki to a much larger group of users.

Google Sidewiki Is Not the World Wide Web

Sidewiki is NOT part of the World Wide Web. It is a separate “Google Wide Web” that only works with GoogleTM. Sidewiki is NOT a true open wiki. It’s a parasite on top of the decentralized, open World Wide Web — an entirely new system that steals content and user registrations from existing Web sites and puts them on a proprietary system that only Google controls.

Google Sidewiki makes it easier for your website visitors to leave comments/reviews on Google Sidewiki than on your own website. Why register for your blog to post comments when the user can just post their comments to Sidewiki? If you have a review website (e.g., for hotels, hostels, products), users will start to leave their reviews on Google Sidewiki, because it will be easier for them to do so than to create an account on your website.

Google Sidewiki robs your website’s users and user generated content.

Click on the screenshot below for a closeup view of this hypothetical Tripadvisor visitor who has decided to leave their hotel review on Google Sidewiki instead of on Tripadvisor. The review website just got their user-generated content hijacked by Google, and the hotel just got a malicious review posted that could be nearly impossible to remove.

Google Sidewiki hotel review

Here are some more problems with Google Sidewiki:

  • You cannot view Google Sidewiki content unless you download Google’s proprietary software.
  • Competitors and vandals can post bad comments about your website and there is virtually nothing you can do to fight back. Subtle negative comments about you will be harder to get removed than blatant libel. Try contacting someone at Google to get problems fixed — it’s nearly impossible to do. For example, there are critical bugs in Google Maps that Google hasn’t fixed for many months, despite their reading the complaints in their support forum.
  • You cannot use Sidewiki if Google bans you. If Google’s automated spam detection system incorrectly decides that your Google Profile is innappropriate (as they did to my profile for no apparent reason), you are unable to participate in Sidewiki and you cannot defend your websites from false negative comments.
  • Google Sidewiki is not part of the World Wide Web. There is currently no way to defend your website against Sidewiki because it isn’t like an HTML frame that you can remove with JavaScript.
  • There are services like Disqus that allow sites to host their comments on 3rd-party websites, but the difference between Disqus and Sidewiki is that I have a choice not to use Disqus for my websites, but I have no choice not to have Sidewiki content displayed on top of my websites.
  • There are services like Facebook, Twitter, and StumbleUpon which have their own proprietary communities. The critical difference with Google Sidewiki is that Sidewiki is runs on top of other websites and steals their users and content. Since Sidewiki is part of the proprietary “Google Wide Web” and not the World Wide Web, websites can’t opt out.
  • It’s okay if Google wants to make a website review system on a website, but it’s not okay for Google to overlay their proprietary system on top of my websites without giving me a way to opt out.

Google’s engineers should be ashamed for this violation of Web standards. Embrace, Extend, Extinguish. Sound familiar? Just because Google can build something that seems “cool” doesn’t mean they should. Google has too much power to be able to do this innocently. Google Sidewiki is Google’s worst product to date and is plainly evil.

The solution: Google should show Sidewiki only on websites that opt-in with Google Webmaster Tools. At the very least, Google must allow webmasters to opt-out of having Sidewiki content enabled for their websites. Forcing Google’s proprietary commenting system on other people’s websites is blatently evil.

What do you think?

UPDATE: there are some scripts that can help defeat Sidewiki on your websites until a better solution can be found. They work by appending a unique hash to the end of each URL. One suggestion I have to improve the scripts is to detect the User-agent and only show the JavaScript to visitors who have Google Toolbar installed. Otherwise it could have unknown SEO effects. The JavaScript could also open an infobar at the top of the webpage that encourages the user to uninstall Google Toolbar. Something like Drupal’s IE Destroyer Module.

UPDATE #2: Google Sidewiki is also framejacking websites and indexing the websites within frames. Framejacking it is a real curse on the Web — everyone is trying to own your copyrighted content by putting it within a frame on their URL.

Updates

Here is some more reading on Google Sidewiki:

Google Sidewiki runs in Google Toolbar, which runs in Firefox and Internet Explorer. You can block people who use Google toolbar, but that is a huge number of users.

In the near future, Google will release the Google Chrome operating system and have the ability to force Google Sidewiki onto a much larger audience. Websites will not be willing to ban such a large number of users.

There is some more discussion about it here.

There are some scripts that can disable Sidewiki on your website, but they have unknown implications for SEO because they append URL fragments to your existing URLs. One example is here.

I’ve edited my post above to say that the solution is “opt-in” only — not opt-out.

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