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Google Knol as Wikipedia, Social Media killer?

Over the weekend, Google Knol emerged as their play for authoritative content. But who pays the price for Google taking the top spot on their own search results page — Wikipedia, Social Media, or the AdWords buyer?

Over the weekend, Google Knol emerged as their play for authoritative content. But who pays the price for Google taking the top spot on their own search results page — Wikipedia, Social Media, or the AdWords buyer?

What is Google Knol?

Google Knol is a service that allows anyone to create articles on any topic they choose. Articles can be rated and commented upon by everyone else. Articles can also optionally include advertising, which Google then share with the author of the article. A feature of Google Knol is the author acknowledgment, which they feel is weakly supported elsewhere.

UGC (User-Generated Content) as a service

When I read through the outline of what Google Knol is all about, I see something more akin to a Digg killer as much as it is a possible Wikipedia slayer:

“People will be able to submit comments, questions, edits, additional content, and so on. Anyone will be able to rate a Knol or write a review of it. Knols will also include references and links to additional information.”

There’s no hiding from the fact that a lot of content is now being channeled through Social Media via Social Networks. And while ever content is being driven by Social Media, it’s not going through Google’s search algorithms:

“While people like you & me are finding stuff on Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit and, we’re not searching for stuff on Google — and that attacks at the very heart of Google’s revenues.”

I’ve long been saying that Google really don’t understand Social Media, but if Google’s recent lab experiment is anything to go by, they just might have got a ticket to the clue train.

What’s at stake here is UGC (User-Generated Content), with Google hoping to attract people to their way of doing things, by adopting some Digg’s democracy, in the hope of putting them ahead of Wikipedia:

“Two years ago, the advertising giant’s search engine was fighting a losing battle against spam … Then Google had a brainwave. Realizing that few searchers explore beyond the top three results, it decided to give a powerful boost to Wikipedia … As a consequence, Wikipedia entries rose to the top of the rankings.”

If we accept that as fact, then why should Google go to the effort of creating a competing system to Wikipedia? One they’ve been actively promoting for years.

Money. Specifically, advertising revenue.

Google: friend now, future foe?

I watched the film Road to Perdition again on Saturday night. When I read through several of the articles about Google Knol and how Google might be finally overstepping the mark, I couldn’t help think of how the Google of tomorrow might not be the friend it is today.

Though I’m not sure who among their number would be analogous to destructive and duplicitous Connor Rooney, if such a person is indeed on the Google payroll at all.

When I look at Google right now, I see a company that is on the whole attempting to do the right thing, even if at times their policies & practices are less than transparent.

Now, if we look at how Google’s foray into the content business with Google Knol, no matter how noble their “do no evil” intentions are right now, board members, founders, CEO’s and Chairmen come and go.

On the face of things, Google Knol looks to be open enough, albeit with a Wikipedia meets Squidoo slant to things.

The allure for content producers is two-fold; wider exposure and revenue streams. And crucially, the authority appears to be the emphasis, which helps set Google Knol apart from the likes of Squidoo and HubPages:

“Whether you view [Google’s Knol] a resounding vote of no confidence in the Wikipedia project, or simply as a landgrab for text advertising, the outcome may well be the same: accelerating Wikipedia’s plans to go commercial.”

Let’s not forget that Google Knol is after all a pre-release product. And in the absence of information, people often back-fill the void with hear-say, rumour and bullshit.

As a content producer myself, I’ll make no secret of my interest. If I feel that Google are likely to offer me the chance to bring my content to a larger audience, ahead of my more regular channels, such as Social Media and SEO tactics, I’m all for it.

But I’m also mindful of the moral implications, too. There are people out there spending lots of money with Google via their AdWords service to get their products atop the search results page.

If number one spot is to be eroded further by yet more Google products, then what value is there in being number two?

Google Knol as Conversational Marketing?

If I were to be given the choice between socialized and democratized UGC versus sponsored content, I know where my money’s going.

So maybe what Google are trying to create here is Conversational Marketing, which would meld more seamlessly with their search algorithms’ penchant for contextual, relevant anchor text?

But there may well be a seed of hypocrisy hidden within this seed of an idea. Didn’t we see PayPerPost recently penalized by Google for sponsored content?

And doesn’t Google Knol look like much of the same? After all, those who write content are eligible for “substantial revenue share from the proceeds” of the advertising in those articles.

Google could well be opening up a can of worms / whoop-ass for themselves, here.

Google are liable to be burning a major bridge between themselves and Wikipedia, while at the same time taking on the very trappings of a business model they so ruthless penalized only weeks earlier…

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

3 replies on “Google Knol as Wikipedia, Social Media killer?”

My grandfather’s lawyer built a cemetery he called “Knollwood.” That’s what came to mind, thus making it sound rather maudlin even though knoll does mean the summit of a hill. How are we meant to pronounce “Knol?” If you say it as “nall” like the beginning of knowldege it’s awfully close to null. (Depending on one’s accent of course) Nole isn’t much better.

But back to Wayne’s point. It’s all about content, isn’t it. For we three our online content is what we write on our blogs and other sites. For Google its content is made from the sites it indexes and makes available through searches. So I guess we could think of Knoll as either competing with its current content or just adding to it. For all the traffic that goes to Wikipedia a lot still goes to the other sites and will too with Knol. Knol articles will also link to other sites as Wikipedia does so those sites will get visitors. From a commerce perspective perhaps it all balances out. We just need to get the traffic to the sites no matter what route it takes to get there.

Aside from the commercial aspects I’m intrigued by the idea of a more user-friendly wiki-like information resource. I go through the history pages on Wikipedia sometimes and even with features like talk it can be really tricky to figure out what got changed when on an active page. I’d love to see a more intuitive interface to watching a page evolve. Our Case Wiki also uses the MediaWiki platform and it’s just kind of awkward. We have a fairly decent amount of content on it so far, but I think we’d have a lot more if it were more intuitive.

I think the challenge for Google is in making their Knols easy to reference and link to in an atomic way, just as you can do with Wikipedia.

For me, that’s where Wikipedia is likely to lead for some time, since Google have by their own admission said they won’t offer any editorial services.

Think of the number of times we reference a Wikipedia article by a section within it, rather than just the article itself.

Unless the writers are going to be disciplined enough to do that, and Google’s Knol’s support such things, they’re likely to suffer as points of authoritative reference…

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