I agree with much of what you say, Evan. All the more reason, I think, to start early and get your own comment reputation scores up if at all possible. I think what is going to ultimately determine the success or failure of Sidewiki will be the effectiveness of its algorithm. I am — and I think they are too — considering competitor slamming to be part of the blanket “spam” term. However, as Search Engine Optimizers have proven time and again, no algorithm is perfect. It will only be a matter of time before people figure out how to spike their comment rankings and Google will have to adjust its algorithm. If the algorithm can’t take care of the stuff that people are so vocally worried about, the Sidewiki service will probably crash and burn. If it does work, by some miracle, it will be a useful user service. Time will tell, and hopefully tell quickly to eliminate the big question mark.
All that aside, in both of my articles, as I was attempting an impartial take, I didn’t actually mention the thing about Sidewiki that bothers me most: The fact that it almost forces you to become involved in order to rank high enough to be able to manage your own brand. I advise that people do it, yes, but only because it is the best course of action to manage this new anomaly. I am not a fan of being forced to do anything. The good thing is, if you are brand and reputation focused, you are likely doing a lot of what you need to do anyway.
It will be interesting to see what happens with site comments, for certain. There are Twitter tools developing, though, like Tweetboard (www.tweetboard.com) for example, that may morph into site commenting tools as well though. I have installed the beta (or is it alpha?) on Bluetoque Marketing’s site and it has some serious potential.
I hope you are right about a legal precedent against ads — especially because in some of their services that are meant to promote your business or site, you can often find ads served that are actually for competitors. Another algorithmic issue, I’m thinking…