Update (November 22, 2008 3:40 PM): Reports are coming in that Google SearchWiki has apparently vanished from some or all Google accounts. Confirmed. It's not known yet if this is just a momentary technical glitch or something more significant. Additional info as it becomes available ...
Update (November 22, 2008 6:20 PM): I'm now told that the disappearance of SearchWiki is indeed a technical problem and that it will return shortly, presumably in the same form as described in the blog entry below. Updates as news warrants.
Greetings. Yesterday I expressed mixed feelings about Google's new "SearchWiki" feature, noting that while the concept seemed to have merit in theory, the ease of potential abuse -- combined with the lack of mechanisms for sites to opt-out of the system or control comments being left associated with their sites -- was of considerable concern. Other observers have noted that there appears to be no way at the moment for Google users who are logged in to opt-out of the system either.
Unfortunately, it appears that significant abuse of the SearchWiki comments system has already begun, as demonstrated by various examples that upset readers have been e-mailing me since yesterday.
Most of these for now tend to fall into the "obscene trash" category, and decorum prevents me from passing them along -- though there are also signs that spam and more sophisticated abuse are beginning as well. One trend already appearing (logically enough from a human nature standpoint) is the defacing of search result links associated with major sites such as Wikipedia. It's quite jarring to see a serious search result displayed along with a string of obscene banter, or in other cases just long displays of utterly inane posers' back and forth comment chatter.
It's true that you don't have to look at the comments if you don't wish to, but that's little consolation for sites who now will have their Google search results associated with all manner of random garbage, attacks, obscenities, spam, and whatever else the darkest recesses of the mind can think up to abuse the audience that SearchWiki provides.
Most people would never dream of abusing SearchWiki, but unfortunately this doesn't mitigate the fact that a relatively small percentage of users can do a great deal of damage due to the asymmetric leverage that SearchWiki appears to provide them in its current incarnation.
If Google wishes to emphasize the potentially positive aspects of SearchWiki, and prevent Google's traditionally stellar search results from declining into a playground for comment abuse that could easily become a laughingstock -- or much worse -- I believe it is absolutely crucial that appropriate control and opt-out mechanisms be implemented as soon as practicable. With the best interests of Google in mind, I urge Google to do so.