Inside the Google Walled Garden

I admit I am a big Google advocate, I have spent a fair amount of time at their cool European HQ In London, at partner events and I even coded the first shipped iteration of our Google Search Appliance Connector (thankfully now looked after by proper developers!). Also, I admit I’ve only spent a few hours with Google’s latest offerings, SideWiki and Wave, but I have the feeling of being in a privileged walled garden, rather than on the crest of a mainstream wave. Why does is it feel like that?

Sidewiki first, I’ve claimed this blog (our own Connie Benson blogged about that), but in order to use it, you need to download a browser plug-in (not available for Google Chrome, but I am not exactly in the majority with using Chrome as default browser) and the comments that folks make are then locked away in the Sidewiki, only available to others with the plug-in – and a Google account.
There is plenty written about the contribution of comments to a blog, I don’t have the audience (or possibly subject matter) to attract a lot of comments – but the big blogging guns out there like Chris Brogan and Social Media commentators like Jeremiah Owyang – freely admit that the conversation that their blog posts attract is a big part of the value to their readers – of forming the engaged community around them. This is important and why I choose to blog about these technologies here, community = engagement.
Anyone who has a blog has to give careful consideration to providing the ability to comment, I’ve gone in a few different directions on this blog – experimenting with some excellent tools like Disqus – before finally settling on what comes out of the box with Worpress, unmoderated with a bit of spam filtering. I did this, as it was easy, familiar and open for the reader, providing the fewest barriers to a hoped for conversation.
In order to share the SideWiki contribution to folks without the plug-in, a Google account or are using Chrome I have experimented with the supposed RSS functionality with little success, but even then I wouldn’t be able to slot this into a comment conversation.
I therefore don’t yet see how Sidewiki benefits the blogger or the community they are trying to form, it’s kind of stuck to one side, out of context of the discussion that is being had (who would force their reader to use SideWiki only?) and only open to the few. There is also no capability for the author to be notified if someone does pen a SideWiki entry – not conducive to a conversation.
Perhaps I am missing the point – this isn’t about conversation, but of folks freely adding to the subject at hand. But, it’s only slightly less anonymous than an anonymous comment as you do need to sign in with something. (An absolutely marvellous example of how being anonymous attracts the brightest and most articulate here). I have also focused on blogging, whereas it’s an even bigger issue for brands (being variously described around the web as graffiti, an example in this blog post) – and another reason why brands need to reach for social media monitoring tools such as our own.
Maybe it’s called “wiki” for a reason, but whilst you can report abuse, it doesn’t seem to have the community authoring features – the crowd sourced truth. If someone was to write a Sidewiki entry on our product website that said our product only ran on AS400’s, me or the community couldn’t correct that – only add another entry disproving it.
So, I am not quite feeling Sidewiki – what about Google Wave then?
There is lots and lots being written about Google Wave as the interweb struggles to comprehend it. I don’t pretend I do and after a couple of hours of playing I have very little to add, but firstly note, I am using Google docs to create this post, not my shiny new Wave account.
The first obvious reason why – is that I am not collaborating, I am writing this alone – but secondly there doesn’t seem to be a publish button – in fact there is no button for extracting the contents of a wave into a different shareable form, like a document.
CMSWire talk about Google Wave and the future of Content Management – something two of their authors collaborated on in real time using Wave – but I am hazarding a guess that some cut and paste lay in that process. In addition noodling through the API documentation it would seem it’s structured for sharing content between Wave users – for inserting into a web page a Wave – not collaboratively generated content.
I am in complete agreement that this is theoretically a great opportunity for content collaboration, helping during that stage that takes place prior to the formal content approval/publishing process. But, it doesn’t seem that this is what it was built for, it seems to be built as a communication and collaboration tool for Wave users only – now admittedly that’s an artificially small community right now and presumably it’ll open up for all folks with Google accounts (hmm… what does it mean for paid for apps? An Enterprise version?) – but that’s still a walled garden, described by Microsoft as the anti-web.
The Waves themselves are not just about content, they are platform for applications and gadgets, it’s really early for that stuff – with very little available. I was using it with my colleague Keith Tsang and we were almost using it like Instant Messenger.
So rather than the future of Content Management, maybe this is the future of Social Media platforms, maybe it’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and those guys that need to look out. Maybe as a content authors we should think of this as a publishing platform, rather than content publishing collaboration.
None the less, are we looking at a Google account becoming a passport to the Internet?
Image of walled garden courtesy of recursion_see_recursion.

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2 thoughts on “Inside the Google Walled Garden

  1. So many questions Ian! You do the early adoption thing first, then you wait. Sometimes it takes a bit. Sometimes people move on to something new & shinier.
    I do have to admit that the Google toolbar is nice because I use many aspects of Google in my workflow.

    And I agree on the comments aspect. There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to comment, or comment moderation. If it’s too hard to comment then I move on.

    I haven’t had time to play with the Wave yet.

    1. Ah yes, I do tend to go off on one. Apparently best blog practice is little and often, I do neither!
      I think the main question is the last one – this idea that it’s not just about the long held belief that Google want to own all content – they also want to own our identity on the web – that having an ID admits you into their walled garden, or past the velvet rope as I saw it described. These services draw you further into the fold.
      Imagine Google using that ‘passport’ to link up the data from the ads I click on, Checkout, e-mail, Sidewiki and the searches I do? Maybe that’s a post for another day…

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