How the hell do these weird topics come together, you ask?
My answer is that both SideWiki and Demon's Souls are built around innovative and immersive systems of collaborative experience sharing. They also, in theory anyways, both have mechanisms in place to reward communally beneficial behavior and prevent abuse and manipulation by those who inevitably try to do so.
Some explanations are in order.
First, Demon's Souls. This has a cool feature built into it's very difficult role playing game design (you're meant to die a lot and need to do lots of trial and error to proceed through the levels, defeat bosses, etc.): the ability to leave messages, hints and advice within the game environment that any other players of the game can opt to view. Those that are found to be helpful are voted so (and I believe the people leaving helpful messages are also rewarded in-game via health increases) and remain in the system, those that aren't disappear quickly. In other words, a sort of wiki-like help system with built in rewards for beneficial behavior.
Google SideWiki is a Google Toolbar add-on that allows those using it to leave comments on any page on the web, see the comments that others have left on any page, and rate the helpfulness of others comments (you can also report spam comments). Google SideWiki claims to have an algorithm in place to automatically display the most relevant comments at the top.
In both cases, in one aspect at least, this is standard social media, user-driven design. Neither concept is totally original (for example Diigo has many of the same web page annotation features as SideWiki), but I believe they both hold great potential beyond that to transform how we interact and share experiences. Both transcend the single user or single site experience.
In the case of SideWiki, instead of comments being relegated and controlled by the site owner, they are set free from those confines and placed over top of any individual site or page. There are lots of reasons to be distrustful of Google's ubiquitous and growing control of information through these kinds of initiatives (read the comments here for lots more on that, especially the concerns of site owners), but I want to instead look past that; focus on the positive potential it holds for library users, information literacy, and library instruction.
Examples of possible use:
- As a library site owner I can place useful tips on how to navigate and find resources or do searching right on the pages where they'll have the most impact and without intruding on the precious real-estate of the actual page. From what I gather there is a way to identify yourself as the site owner (via some embedded code similar to Google Analytics) so that your comments appear at the top by default.
- As an instructor, I could have an exercise, for example, where I ask students to find information on their topic within our site and on each page along the way, make a reflective comment on their choices and what worked or didn't work for them. I could take it a step further and have each student then go to the profile of a fellow student and follow their footsteps and make further comments on their comments, etc. I don't think this will work within secure pages, but as far as navigating our site to get to a specific search tool and get the students to think critically about their choices, this has potential.
- As a distance learning student, I can potentially participate in a communal activity to share experiences and ideas with my peers and classmates. Building an online college community is one I'm especially interested in, since this is a large obstacle to overcome (and desire on the students' part, based on feedback the college has collected) for our institution.