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Google fits web with meta comments engine

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Google has added a new contraption to its browser toolbar that lets you annotate any web page - and read annotations left by others.

Yes, it's what you might call a meta comments engine. And this being Google, the company is intent on using Google algorithms to sort these comments according to Google-defined relevance.

Announced this morning on the Official Google Blog, the contraption is known as Sidewiki. "What if everyone, from a local expert to a renowned doctor, had an easy way of sharing their insights with you about any page on the web? What if you could add your own insights for others who are passing through?" the post reads. "Now you can."

Available for download with the Google Toolbar here, Sidewiki pops up as a browser sidebar, along the left-hand side of a webpage. From there, you can annotate a page - targeting specific pieces of text - and read annotations left by others. But unlike the average comment engine, comments will be sorted.

"Developing Sidewiki, we wanted to make sure that you'll see the most relevant entries first," the company said. "We worked hard from the beginning to figure out which ones should appear on top and how to best order them. So instead of displaying the most recent entries first, we rank Sidewiki entries using an algorithm that promotes the most useful, high-quality entries. It takes into account feedback from you and other users, previous entries made by the same author and many other signals we developed."

You can read more about Google's algorithmic methods here.

What's more, if you comment on a particular piece of text that turns up on other webpages, Google will leave your exposition on those pages as well. For example, if you comment on a Barack Obama quote, your words will appear next to every site that repeats the quote.

The company also intends to offer an API that lets third party developers access comment created with the new tool. So, at some point, other applications will have the power to read and write Sidewiki comments as well. And it all gets pumped into Google's ever-growing collection of online data that it's doing who knows what with.

Like so many home grown Google projects, Sidewiki may fall flat on its face. But if it survives, you can bet that Google will one day use your comments to target some ads.

Sidewiki is available on the Google toolbar with both Firefox and Internet Exporer. And Google is working to roll it directly into Chrome as well. ®

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