Google Elements: Sidewiki, Checkout, Wave and Virtual Keyboard

Posted by Sam Battin, Senior Search Strategist

Recently Google announced that it would allow several of its interactive tools to be embedded into websites.  This is pretty good news for site owners looking for ways to make their sites more interesting and useful to visitors. 

Google calls these tools “Elements,” probably meaning building blocks for your website; structural supports, essentials which you didn’t even know you needed in the first place.  Being able to add more interesting things to your website is one of the fruits of HTML 5 research.  We’d like to propose some ways to use these items to boost usability.  If usability is improved, your visibility may also improve as people add more links to your site.

Element 1: What’s Sidewiki?

First off, let’s look at something called Sidewiki. This tool presents a very easy way for your visitors to add useful content to your site, as well as stick around longer.  You don’t have to install this on your site; this is a browser add-on that your visitors can install.  With this tool installed, users can add comments to your site and see comments other users have made. 

What you should do with SideWiki: get it installed on your browser and see whether your visitors have started leaving comments on your site.  This can be a good way to get informal feedback on your site, and gain insight into the personalities and needs of your visitors.

Element 2: What’s Checkout?

Google Checkout (reportedly) makes it a lot easier for folks new to the web to set up a virtual store and start selling their merchandise.  Essentially, users fill out their merchandise information in a spreadsheet and then Google translates the spreadsheet into a widget people can easily copy and paste into the side bar of their site.  The widget contains commonly used buying interface controls such as “Add to cart.”

What you should do with Checkout: This might be a good way for sites which have never sold anything before to see whether their visitors are in a buying mood.  It’s free, and apparently it’s easy to set up, so it can be a good way for people new to e-commerce to dip their toes in the water.

Element 3: What’s Google Wave?

One of the things that help people work together better is the ability to collaborate.  A project today can require images, video, word documents, spreadsheets, or many other types of files.  What’s an easy way for a group of people to share and access these file types?  Google Wave is Google’s attempt to provide a virtual workspace where sharing documents is easy, and the results are organized into a conversation that’s easy to follow and get caught up on.

What you should do with Google Wave: Google now allows you to embed individual Waves onto web pages.  By default, only people previously named as participants can participate in Google waves, but you can flip switches in Google Wave to make your collaborations public.  If your site is community-oriented and depends on visitor contributions for content, Google Wave can offer an interesting alternative to message boards.

Element 4: What’s a Virtual Keyboard?

Google’s Virtual Keyboard is something that can make communication easier between people who use different alphabets.  Ordinarily, most people visiting your site will speak your language and share your keyboard layout.  In some cases, however, visitors might come to your site from another country.  In this example, we’ll say these foreign visitors are from Kyrgyzstan.

Now, suppose your site’s Kyrgyz visitors wanted to use the д , Ш and ж characters in their message to you.  Until recently, this was an impossible dream, but Google has solved this problem with their virtual keyboard.  If you insert this element into your site, any text input interface will include a drop-down list from which visitors can select their language and use a tiny keyboard with all the characters found in their language.  Here’s a screenshot of the full Kyrgyz keyboard available in this element:

Google elements 

What you should do with the Virtual Keyboard: If your site gets a lot of visitors from Kyrgyzstan, your troubles are over.  If the vast majority of your visitors use the same language you do, however, then it’s probably not necessary to put this on your site. 

In Summary
As always, think about what’s genuinely useful for your visitors.  Adding these interfaces just for the sake of adding them may only have the effect of cluttering your site and making it confusing to visitors.  If your site’s users can benefit from new ways of sharing information, and the Google elements shown above can save you time, then go for it.

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