Comment may be free: but what's the point?

Added by Sarah on 07 October 2009 14:43

As some of you may have noticed, our website has evolved.

I hope you like the new site and find it easier to navigate than the old one, once you’ve figured out where everything is! We’ve added some shiny ‘web 2.0’ features, with links to our Twitterings, our Facebook fan page and our bookmarks in Delicious.

We’ve also added the option for comments to be possible on the projects pages. We’re always keen to know what people think of our work, so if you’ve got a burning issue you want airing about what we do, do let us know.

That leads me on nicely to a flurry in the press recently about Google’s new toolbar Sidewiki. In Google’s words it’s a tool to “Contribute helpful information to any web page”. To use it, you have to download the toolbar and then click the ‘Write an entry’ link at the bottom of the sidebar to add a note to any website you want (whether they have commenting features enabled on the site or not). I haven’t actually managed to use it yet, I can’t install the toolbar at work, so I’ll have to find time to look it up at home, to see if it’s any good.

Some are claiming its not really deserving of the name ‘wiki’ as you can’t edit other people’s annotations (so more of a commenting feature, than a conversation). The media is concerned with what value it will deliver and who will actually bother to use it? The Guardian’s headline on this story announced ‘Google Sidewiki: the idea that won’t die, but never lives’.

The point of it seems to be to build a conversation and add value around existing content. However, there’s still the problem of whether the comments being made are authoritative, or biased, or not. Some commentators feel that unless there is an editing process built in (to modify or delete items that are incorrect/inappropriate), then it isn’t that useful.

It is very difficult to get people to contribute to the discussion (why should they, where’s their motivation?), especially in an age where everyone is overloaded with information as it is. And what do you do once people comment, and it’s not perhaps the positive, nice stuff you were hoping for? The Scholarly Kitchen have written a good post suggesting strategies for dealing with this new application (aimed at publishers, but very useful for everyone who’s interested). This is definitely a new way of thinking and challenges old ideas about content, it’ll be interesting to see how it develops.

And, even whilst saying it’s difficult to get people to comment, I do hope you feel the urge to feedback on our site (the good and the bad!), all comments are very gratefully received. You can post on the site, or email us directly

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