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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Google's Wacky Wiki is Whack! Pharma Should Demand Ability to Block It!

Have you heard of sidewiki? Sidewiki is Google's new browser sidebar that "enables you to contribute and read helpful information alongside any web page. It is available as a feature in Google Toolbar" (You can find Google sidewiki here).

The "helpful information" Google is talking about is sidewiki entries that other people have written about the page. Anyone can write a sidewiki comment attached to any page on YOUR website and you CANNOT do anything about it! You cannot edit it and you cannot delete it, no matter how damaging it may be to you (unless it is obscene). Think of the implications for the pharmaceutical industry!

"If there are no entries," says Google, "you can be the first to write one!"

Of course, I could not pass up the opportunity to be the first person to write a sidewiki entry attached to a major drug.com website! It took me only about 10-20 seconds to download the Google sidebar, which included sidewiki, and start using it.

It also took me only about 10-20 seconds to decide which drug.com wsbsite should have the honor of being the first to be graced with my sidewiki comments: www.viagra.com!

Here's my very first sidewiki comment, which is now attached to the homepage of www.viagra.com:
TITLE: Viagra is Bogus!

COMMENT: I've tried Viagra and it caused my right arm to fall off! That would have been fine, except it also did not give me an erection!
A nifty feature of sidewiki is the ability to "share" your comments on Twitter and Facebook! Here's what was posted on Twitter when I shared my comment:
"Just wrote a Sidewiki entry on 'Erectile Dysfunction (ED) Treatment - VIAGRA ® (sildenafil citrate)' http://bit.ly/2x0QE0"
How cool is that! A branded Tweet with a Twist!

If you have the new Google toolbar with sidewiki, you can view my comment when you visit www.viagra.com. You'll have to click on the little sidebar arrow to open up it up and view it. I expect, however, that by the time you read this, Pfizer will have had a talk with Google and arranged to have my comments expunged (more on that below). So, here's a screen shot I took today at 8:00 AM (click for an enlarged view):



I did this to prove an obvious point: Google's sidewiki allows any anti-pharma wacko to append unsubstantiated adverse events on any drug.com website. 

So far, 1 out of 5 people reading my sidewiki have found it useful and 2 other people have submitted comments (shown in the screen shot below):



I note with a certain amount of pride that MY sidewiki entry is on the FIRST PAGE of the sidebar, whereas these others are relegated to page 2! "Sidewiki uses a quality algorithm and user ratings to determine the order of the entries that appear in the sidebar for a given page," says Google. "The entries that are scored as being the most helpful and pertinent are more likely to display. Sidewiki entries with lower quality scores may not appear on the first page of the sidebar."

BTW, the other 2 entries were written by people who I contacted directly or who follow me on Twitter where I ranted about this subject. You may remember Ayre Sachs as the "erectile projectile" man who was sued by Pfizer for trademark infringement (see  "Viva Viagra Missile Guy Vows to Continue His Quixotic Fight Against Pfizer").

I learned about Google's sidewiki from Steve Woodruff, who writes Impactiviti Blog (see "Google's Sidewiki - Game-changer for Pharma Social Media?"). Steve and I had some back and forth conversation via Twitter about sidewiki and whether or not it was a "game changer."

Is It a Game Changer?
No new technology is a "game-changer" for the pharma industry until zillions of people use it on a regular basis (or it just seems that way because pharma has been slow to understand how all new media is a game changer). I mean, how many people will ever see my comment? You have to be geek enough to download the Google sidebar and learn how to use it. For me, that's pretty simple. But it's not something your typical Web surfer would bother with.

Some of my colleagues remind me that we are talking about Google, a company that is used to having its software used by millions of people. Suppose millions of people started using sidewiki tomorrow? In my humble opinion, that would NOT bode well for the Internet as a powerful tool that consumers can use to find useful, credible health information. If you believe that pharmaceutical companies provide a good share of such information, then that information is in danger of being corrupted by wiki comments from people with an anti-pharma agenda -- people motivated enough to use new technology like Google sidebar.

What was Google thinking when it developed sidewiki? It is thinking to put paid ads in that sidebar alongside the highest scoring sidewiki comments -- ie, comments just like mine! Google's scoring algorithm is agnostic when it comes to quality health information. I just proved that with my viagra.com wiki comment, which has a high score (so far).

But Google is forgetting that one of its biggest advertisers is the pharmaceutical industry. I am sure this industry is not going to be happy about how sidewiki can hijack their content and even perhaps allow competitors to post content or ads in the sidebar of their web pages. Google is biting the hand that feeds it.

Block It Danno!
I fully expect -- and hope -- that the drug industry will talk some sense into Google. The first thing the industry should do is to insist that Google make an exception for the pharmaceutical industry and allow it to block sidewiki from working on its websites. After all, if Google can carve out an exception to its rule against redirected URLs in adwords for drug.com paid search ads (see "St. Google Slays the FDA Dragon?"), it can carve out pharma URL exceptions for sidewiki. Case closed.

15 comments:

  1. John,

    This one's a little more complicated for Google to make an exception. What's the basis? What corporation would not want an exception and have an equally compelling reason?

    One way to look at this is to analogize it to an online Picket line. Picketers cannot trespass on certain property and cannot enter facilities, but at the right distance can exercise their free speech. Is the SideWiki a form of trespassing?

    Its possible also, because of the co-location of the wiki content on the URL it will be viewed as copyright infringement? It'll be interesting. Depends on how the program is constructed perhaps. Its also voluntary, you don't have to walk through the picket line if you don't want to.

    Taking my regulatory hat off though, its cool technology, but I think the format will be a mess of noise and spam once it goes mainstream.

    John Murray

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  2. Sure, I'd like an exception as well. I also want an exception to the redirect URL rule for adwords, but I won't get it. Meanwhile, Google has giving pharma an exception for years.

    Your legality issues are interesting.

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  3. Wow! this is by far google's worst idea ever! As doc Murray said it will become a wild mess of spam and insults being thrown back and forth between competitors. They should seriously rethink this thing!

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  4. John, first of all an observation. You write: "I note with a certain amount of pride that MY sidewiki entry is on the FIRST PAGE of the sidebar, whereas these others are relegated to page 2!". The same happens to me. My entry is also on the first page. So it seems that it is a feature of Google SideWiki to show first a page with the user's entries and then others' users comments.

    On the other hand I think this is not an easy case to close. Other industries might also want to be excluded to avoid negative entries from consumers, competitors, former employees,... I don't see why should Google grant an exception to one industry and not others.

    If it is going to be adopted by mainstream quickly or slowly it is a difficult prediction to make. Not a long time ago similar things were being told about Twitter. And I still find people expressing doubts about the utility of this tool.

    With regards to the commented exception that allows pharma companies to mask the url's of their brand sites is rather tricky and consequently unjustifiable. I think it is a bad policy because as you mention consumer might be fooled.

    As Steve Swoodruff put it yesterday: Pandora's box has been opened.

    Miguel A. Tovar

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  5. Thanks for pointing that out!

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  6. Remember, the last thing out of Pandora's Box was hope!

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  7. Anonymous4:22 PM

    "John, first of all an observation. You write: "I note with a certain amount of pride that MY sidewiki entry is on the FIRST PAGE of the sidebar, whereas these others are relegated to page 2!". The same happens to me. My entry is also on the first page. So it seems that it is a feature of Google SideWiki to show first a page with the user's entries and then others' users comments."

    John, Your entry doesn't even come up when I visit the website (probably because their algorithm ranked your comment as low quality. I think it's quite clever that tricksters will be fooled into thinking their content is prominently featured, when it isn't, no?. Care to recalibrate your assumptions?

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  8. As far as I can see, sidewiki is full of bugs. Remember, it's still in beta. Some people have told me one minute they cannot see my entry and the next they say nevermind, saw it. I cannot see some entries myself on my own blog that I know are there. Then, later on I do see it.

    Whatever my ranking, the main issue is that this is really whacky and will get Google no points with its major advertisers!

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  9. To Anonymous: If you go to http://www.viagra.com/ you will be able to see the entries. If you go to http://www.viagra.com/index.aspx
    you won't. Google SideWiki allows to comment every single page on a web site, and even a selection of a sigle page. So to check the entries it is necessary to point to the exact url.

    Miguel A. Tovar

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  10. John, the debate out of the pharma industry is quite hot and according to this article published by 'The Guardian' you may be right: http://bit.ly/pytnz

    On the other hand: "Google has made it clear they don't want comments to get out of hand within Sidewiki. The company has set up a Sidewiki program policy (http://bit.ly/2wgBw8) that prohibits from posting spam, malware, hate speech, copyrighted material, or links to sexually explicit material." (from: BusinessWeek http://bit.ly/2mo3kG)

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  11. Definitely NOT one of Google's better ideas...

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  12. This should make for some fun dialog when the FDA has their upcoming forum. Talk about completely out of our control?! Forget what people are doing in unbranded or social media areas. This has the potential to de-rail regulatory approved, tightly managed sites and content. @mmyerspalio

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  13. Anonymous12:28 AM

    This isn't actually Google's idea. There are a few others that have been in this game for a while. They're just not named Google, obviously. There's also a script out there to block it from your site.

    It's a geek tool so I doubt average consumers will jump on board any time soon. I'm all for the idea though. For all those marketers (pharma or not) who have been hesitant in approaching social media in any way, this is a nice little knock on the door.

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  14. Your entry doesn't even come up when I visit the website (probably because their algorithm ranked your comment as low quality. I think it's quite clever that tricksters will be fooled into thinking their content is prominently featured, when it isn't, no?. Care to recalibrate your assumptions?

    ReplyDelete
  15. I can't check this right now using my iPad - sidewiki isn't available I suppose without Flash. Anyway, a lot has changed since then, including a site remake. In that time, Pfizer may have learned a lot about how to game sidewise to their benefit.

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