43 Comments

Summary:

Google’s foray into social content, aka Knols, is a dangerous development for the likes of Wikipedia and Mahalo. It is also a sign that Google is finally beginning to show its monopolist claws. Google’s mysterious Page Rank system is what Internet Explorer was to Microsoft in the late 1990s: a way to control the destiny of others.

In some strange, twisted sort of a way, Google’s foray into social content, aka Knols, is a tip of the hat to entities whose results have started to show up really high in the search results — Wikipedia and Mahalo, for example. Mathew Ingram points out this can hurt not only them, but others as well. It is also a sign that Google (GOOG) is finally beginning to show its monopolist claws.

It is also a tactical admission by a company that believed that the machine was more powerful than the “human” that it isn’t the case. First, what are knols? Udi Manber, Google’s VP of Engineering describes knols as …

…a new, free tool that we are calling “knol”, which stands for a unit of knowledge. Our goal is to encourage people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it….A knol on a particular topic is meant to be the first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read.

He goes on to extoll the virtues of authors, and how they need to be highlighted. This is a smackdown on Wikipedia, where the individual contributions remain part of the collective and are not the focus — and rightfully so. As Nick Carr writes,

For the past year, Chief Wikipedian Jimmy Wales has been doing a lot of trash-talking about taking on Google in the search business. Now Google’s striking back.

Whether it will be successful or not remains to be seen. Now if you think about it, the knol, despite its fancy name, is nothing but a classic move by a quasi-monopolist that wants to ensure it keeps getting the raw material (in this case, content on knols) for free, so that it can keep selling it at a premium. I stopped believing in Google’s “do no evil” ethos a long time ago, so that is why I am worried by comments this like from Manber:

Our job in Search Quality will be to rank the knols appropriately when they appear in Google search results.

Which is to say that they won’t start making knols appear higher in the search results. Maybe it is the jet lag, but I don’t see knols as revolutionary as others are making them out to be. After all, you can set up a blog, make an expert page, maintain it and even put Google Ad Sense to monetize it. So how does this make knols special?

Sure there are APIs that allow knols to be shared with others, and Google maintains that it won’t give special weight to the knols, but who’s to know what they do inside their four walls. Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan, who has the single best post on this subject, is a bit disconcerted by knols, it seems.

Google using its page rank system to its own benefit. Think of it this way: Google’s mysterious Page Rank system is what Internet Explorer was to Microsoft in the late 1990s: a way to control the destiny of others.

(Check out my interview with Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia)

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  1. Om, I don’t think Knol is a Wikipedia killer. I have listed my reasons in this post. http://www.krishworld.com/blog/open-source/open-media/wikipedia-is-safe-from-google-knol/

  2. Knol and Wikipedia are very different authoring models and as such cannot be compared. It’s more akin to Mahalo so it should be interesting to see what happens in the early part of 2008. Will Mahalo’s first mover status give them advantage or will the integration with other Google products (Gmail, Docs and Spreadsheets, Blogger etc) mean that Knol will be an easier content generation platform.

  3. Om, I think the jet lag is really affecting you if you can’t see the value in what Google is trying to do here. There is a reason why no professor in their right mind accepts wikipedia as a reference (or any encyclopedia for that matter). Google is trying to create a repository for peer-reviewed, scholarly articles, not an encyclopedia.

    You’re also completely off base with your comments on Ad Sense. People who will write knols (and their will be many) are NOT motivated by Ad Sense revenue. To the contrary, they’re motivated by peer recognition. They’re not professional bloggers surviving off ad revenue, like ahem some people. Yeah, they could start a blog, setup Ad Sense, promote their blog, setup a rating and peer review system, etc… but well, you get the point.

    The topic of Google and “don’t be evil”… well that’s another story altogether.

    Get some sleep. You’ll see more clearly in the morning.

  4. Edwin Khodabakchian Friday, December 14, 2007

    Hi Om,

    I hope that you had a good time in Paris. I think that knols will be more useful when used as decision guides. I think that innovation here is integration and simplicity. I agree with you that it would be nice for Google to find a way to integrate this initiative back with Wikipedia.

    The ranking of knol is an interesting open question. This is indeed a risk factor.

    What is really nice about knol versus mahalo is that knol seems much more open, focused and scalable.

    It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

  5. Saurabh Kaushik Friday, December 14, 2007

    Yes, it is Wikipedia by Google. But it has better features for author to monetize written page, related search box and Peer review widget.

    I think it is great to have a better version of wikipedia and I am sure Google will do greater job in this area.

    I would certainly not advocate the monopoly, but you got to be smarter and quicker to kill the beast, other they stories will repeat itself.

  6. Dimitrios Matsoulis Friday, December 14, 2007

    Despite the differences, I agree with Om that Google uses its market position to spread in every possible way. I have written my opinion about this happening at company level here: http://electronrun.wordpress.com/2007/12/10/googles-new-directions-microsofts-example/ None of us can argue that Google certainly has its own way of doing things. Even if it offers slightly different packaging to others the aim is certainly to dominate in every possible way.

  7. Wikipedia (50M+ uniques) tends to be result #2 or #3 for A LOT of Google search results, it makes sense for Google to want to keep some of those people within the Google ecosystem.

    Traffic chart: http://hepguru.com/blog/2007/12/14/wikipedia-stats-unique-visitors-knols/

  8. John Handelaar Friday, December 14, 2007

    As if Squidoo didn’t have enough to worry about.

  9. Has anyone ever used Mahalo? It’s garbage.

    There are no incentives at all to provide content, apart from spam, beyond the initial search result, for which you get paid 10 to 15 dollars, or at least that is what is stated at the site.

    The search results were useless on Mahalo.

    Knol is hopefully better, because people have an incentive to keep the knol pages up to date and relevant to rank high (and get high visitor and peer rankings).

  10. Saurabh Kaushik said:

    Yes, it is Wikipedia by Google. But it has better features for author to monetize written page, related search box and Peer review widget.

    I think it is great to have a better version of wikipedia and I am sure Google will do greater job in this area.

    I would certainly not advocate the monopoly, but you got to be smarter and quicker to kill the beast, other they stories will repeat itself.

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