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Google's Death Knol For Some?

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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)

43 Responses to “Google's Death Knol For Some?”

  1. AModerate

    Alright, there is something wrong with your posting system. Its chopping off my sentences from between paragraphs.

    My first paragraph says:

    Have you every considered why there are so many successful “free” websites around. Its because of advertisements. I doubt even wikipedia can survive without google, which in turn relies on ads.
    Aight, there is something wrong with your posting system. Its cutting off sentences in between paragraphs.

    I’m gonna quit if it doesn’t work this time.

  2. @ Saurabh Kaushik

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

    Judging from the ugly name (“knol”) I’m not so sure about this!! LOL Why not Gpedia? I don’t get it!!!!

  3. Time will tell if Knoll actually kills Wikipedia or not. One thing is for sure that if anyone, Google happens to be int he best position possible to do just that. Why ? Over 50% of Wikipedia’s traffic comes from Google.

  4. Punish Google

    I hereby propose a philanthrophic movement to clip off google’s moneymaking greed. I would request everyone who thinks Google is getting Greedy and Evil, to install Adblock ( and turn it on for Google Search, Blogger, Knol and basically any such nexus of google search + google content.

    As citizens of this free and open web, it is our duty to let the monopolists know that we care about fairness of internet. And it is our responsibility to take action so that they feel the heat.

    Hoping for your support..
    Let knowledge be free..

  5. Alexander van Elsas

    While I welcome the initiative, I already know it won’t answer any of the questions that really matter. It will be yet another great source of information, structured, probably written by people that are experts. But as will almost anything on the web, there will be too much of it. And pretty soon we need the Google Search engine and pageranking system to find anything on KNOL.

    I have found a much easier and better way to get answers to the questions that really matter. I use Google to find the address and phone number of a vet I rarely visit. But if I want to know more about something that really matters to me, I always turn to people. Friends, family, colleagues from work, people I know from the web, or my blog. Anyone. There are 2 reasons why I always get better results there.

    1. I trust the judgement of people I know or have interacted with before. Not only because they are knowledgeable, but also because they know me!
    2. Finding information is good, interacting with someone about it is better. I find that if I talk to a person I always gain more knowledge than simply reading about it.
      So KNOL will probably be great for some in-depth information, as is Wikipedia. But for stuff that really matters, who needs them. I’d always turn to people for that.
  6. I really think Google is overstepping their bounds here. While I don’t think this’ll be particularly damaging to Wikipedia – they’re established beyond what Google could possibly undo – I do think that this is one arena Google has no business being in.

    All their other products (messenger, search, docs, and calendar) are still rivaled by fierce (although not always focused) competition. Really this is the first entry into their product line where they’re rearing their ugly monopolistic heads – they only have one viable competitor and to quash them would be a huge undertaking and very underhanded if they succeed.

  7. Wikipedia is by far most effective in getting folks real organized content.

    Google has been the eqivalent of an effective tag search so far (vs. Yahoo’s categorized search). Far less accurate than Wikipedia, Google mostly caters to business search and such.

    Wikipedia has become the center of the information world. In fact, for most useful terms, Wikipedia links are ranked in the first three. Indicating Wikipedia is a better first target than Google. Almost like people thought of Google vs. Yahoo five years ago.

    This is Google’s reaction for not getting taken over wikipedia and related sites. Other companies have tried exactly what is being proposed here (like with experts), and Google itself tried it along with its notebook concept a few years ago. That did not take off at all. Pretty much the same thing happened with Google books, and many other attempts.

    Maybe Google can just start to host Wikipedia – in fact someone was saying that there was a proposal on this.

    Or better yet, Google can start to index the semantic web’s xml rather than making a Wikipedia copy.

    I think Wikipedia is a far better movement (something that can get Jim Wales a Nobel Peace Prize or something at some point) in organizing all information by everyone – for the good of all, by the people themselves.

    Om does point to something ominous for Google. The fact that it is starting to be recognized as a monopoly – with all its associated snags to come.

  8. Squidoo buzzles me. Techcrunch stated that they were crushed by Google earlier this year, yet compete shows strongly increasing visitor numbers.

    I’ve yet to find Squidoo pages on search with Google, so maybe those numbers reflect more Squidoo page creators visits to the site and really long tail searches on Google (which has about 650,000 squidoo lenses on the index).

  9. From Udi Manber’s post: “Google will provide easy-to-use tools for writing, editing, and so on, and it will provide free hosting of the content. Writers only need to write; we’ll do the rest.”

    This is what makes knols “special” – Google makes all the money off of it, while the authors get none.

    Also: “For many topics, there will likely be competing knols on the same subject. Competition of ideas is a good thing.”

    What topics are open to competition? Who decides that? If there are five knols on the same subject which shows up first in search results?

  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.

  11. Maha Vaan

    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).

  12. 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: 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. Christoff

    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.

  16. 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.