Knol: Google vs. the Internet

Yesterday, Google opened Knol to the public. Knol, which is a Squidoo-like user generated content site, strays from their mission statement of organizing the world’s knowledge by also producing and publishing that content. However, beyond being evidence of Google potentially losing focus, there a more disturbing aspect of Knol has emerged for web publishers. There is some evidence that Google is giving preferential treatment to Knol pages.

When Knol launched, Google reps told Danny Sullivan that “the authority of Google’s domain wouldn’t give Knol any additional trust. Knol pages will be scored based on the links and PageRank pointing to individual pages.” Or in other words, Google won’t give special treatment to Knol pages. That’s important, because it will go a ways toward helping keep spammers away from Knol.

However, today, Sullivan took a look at a sample of 30 Knol pages and found that about a third of them were ranked on the first page of Google results for the words in which they’re titled. “You can spin that both ways. It’s proof that being in Knol is NOT an automatic ride to the top of the search results,” writes Sullivan. “But then again, knowing that 33% of your stuff will rank within a day is a pretty good track record.”

Sullivan also made a test Knol called “Firefox Plugins For SEO & SEM.” In 24 hours, his test Knol page shot to 28th for a Google search for “firefox plugins for seo.” 28th isn’t great, but going from nothing to 28 among three quarters of a million pages in 24 hours is also telling. “I’m sorry — don’t tell me that being in Knol doesn’t give your page some authority,” says Sullivan. “[The] bottom line is that Knol feels like a trusted domain to Google, and content hosted on trusted domains will do better, in my opinion.”

Sullivan’s findings seem to confirm the premise that Jeff Jarvis advanced today, that Google is now competing with the rest of the Internet. “So Google is now going to fill in the gaps in human knowledge?” Jarvis asks of Knol. “That is its first hubristic leap. The next: that we need Google to create a means for sharing knowledge. That is what the internet itself does. Every page, every blog, post, every media article is precisely that. So now Google is competing not just with media but with the entire internet and everyone who publishes on it.”

Jarvis says Google has created their own media brand with Knol, which echoes the sentiment of the Guardian’s Jack Shofield, who called Knol an “attack on the media industry in general” when it was announced last December.

In his post today, Jeff Jarvis offers some advice to Google, “Stop before it’s too late. Competing with those you serve — from a position of unbeatable advantage — isn’t just bad business. It’s evil.” What’s your take?

Free book: Jump Start HTML5 Basics

Grab a free copy of one our latest ebooks! Packed with hints and tips on HTML5's most powerful new features.

  • WriteGreatKnols.com

    Of course, the thing about Danny Sullivan creating a test blog is that people link to his knol. So that’s going to modify the result set. The trick would be for a nobody (who knows nothing about SEO, so they don’t optimize their web copy) to write a topic and see where it sits in a day or a week, without any links to it.

  • http://www.geobop.org/ geosite

    It’s hard to know where Knol fits in the big scheme of things. Google is undeniably an enormous power, and people should be alarmed by its seemingly unchecked growth. Yet many people (myself included) are comforted by the fact that Google is filling niches that might otherwise be filled by Microsoft – THAT’s a truly terrifying thought.

    Like Apple, Google has earned a reputation for innovation. I like my Mac, and I appreciate Google’s diverse services. They actually work, and I don’t feel somehow tainted by using them.

    Still, the idea of Google more or less fostering its own content – content that might then get a free ride to the top of the search engine – is disturbing.

    On the other hand, there are a number of dynamics that need to be measured carefully. As I understand, Knol authors are allowed to sign their names to their articles, retain copyright rights and even delete them. They are also allowed to freely link text in their articles to other web pages.

    One of the things that discouraged me from writing for Wikipedia was confusion over its terms. Some have suggested that webmasters could compromise their websites (i.e. lose their copyright protection) if they shared some of their material with Wikipedia or even linked to their websites from Wikipedia.

    I think it’s obvious that Wikipedia needs some competition. It’s a fantastic resource – one I use a lot – but it also has some problems. Most notably, the ability to write and edit anonymously makes it easy to write crap and to hack articles. I’ve seen several examples of it.

    I’m hoping (and betting) that Knol will eventually produce more accurate content than Wikipedia. In fact, I’m personally testing that theory. I’ve bookmarked several Wikipedia articles that, in layman’s terms, suck. I’m going to write more accurate versions and post them on Knol, then take it from there.

    I just think it’s too early to condemn Knol, though it certain merits scrutiny. One of my biggest concerns is that Knol could feature content that competes with entire websites. For example, suppose I create a website featuring articles about all the world’s mammals, only to discover that Google has somehow created a similar resource out of a series of knols.

    I strongly disagree with this statement from your blog post:

    “Jarvis says Google has created their own media brand with Knol, which echoes the sentiment of the Guardian’s Jack Shofield, who called Knol an ‘attack on the media industry in general’ when it was announced last December.”

    The “media industry” in general needs to be attacked. In fact, many people see the Internet as the last refuge against media corruption. Unfortunately, the Internet intself has been corrupted. Whether or not Knol will offer a refuge or will simply suck us in deeper remains to be seen.

  • serg08

    who said it is “like Squidoo”? I didn’t find any affiliates that you can add to your knol, except Adsense. How did you come up with the squidoo comparison?

  • http://www.liaiseonline.co.uk JonDavey

    just done a search and the article is top for: firefox plugins for seo

    not sure what the worry is, surely it just means that any seo chap worth his salt will be using Knol to publish content to max things for their cleints

    if the world gets bored of seeing knol at the top or taking up the first 5 spots then the result will be very simple… whoever has the sexiest, most productive search engine at that time will clean up and become the next trillionaire

    sometimes companies should recognise when they are great at one thing and stick to that, buy a few properties for the pension fund and relax…

  • http://www.mockriot.com/ Josh Catone

    @serg08 – I think Squidoo is the more precise comparison than Wikipedia. It’s not 1:1, certainly, but because Knol does revenue sharing and Knols are single author rather than multi-user wiki-edited articles, the service has a lot in common with Squidoo’s lenses.

  • QuaffAPint

    I had setup a Google Knol Tracker, On The Knol, to track what kind of articles show up on Google Knol’s frontpage.

    So far it’s very heavily health related and with articles that are a lot more eZineArticles like rather than Wikipedia like. I think Knol will provide a lot more competition to the article directories than it will Wikipedia or other similar sites.

  • tyler

    What is Google actually bringing to the ‘net with this ‘knol’?

    Wikipedia are there already.

    This is not a ‘groundbreaking’ product.

    Remains to be seen whether the public thinks it has any actual value, or sees it as what it is, a slightly ‘green’ product.

  • badgergirl

    I think these worries or criticisms about knol are ridiculous. Why are we sitting around wringing our hands about Google adding to the world’s body of knowledge, rather than celebrating it?

    “suppose I create a website featuring articles about all the world’s mammals, only to discover that Google has somehow created a similar resource out of a series of knols.”

    Why is this a problem? No so many years ago, the ideal in higher education was to let ideas flow, to share knowledge, to celebrate knowledge. People have become so obsessed with “monetizing” everything, that now instead of being interested in growing, exchanging and spreading knoweledge, we know fret that somebody might compete with MY knowledge or steal MY knowledge and that entity should somehow be suppressed.

    The whole paranoia and possessiveness thing is darned depressing. Google has many wonderful services and products. Many of them are not dominant and have better competitors but still are out there for people to use if they like. I don’t see Google as being anything like Microsoft. Most of Google’s stuff is free, and nobody is forced to use any of it. If you don’t like their search engine, then use another search engine. Or write your own knol.

  • http://www.WeightJournals.com marcel

    Google also gives preference to blogger.com (Blogspot) hosted domains.

  • http://www.geobop.org/ geosite

    ME: “suppose I create a website featuring articles about all the world’s mammals, only to discover that Google has somehow created a similar resource out of a series of knols.”

    Badgergirl: “Why is this a problem?”

    Spend several years working on a website focusing on geography, fashion, cars or whatever and nursing it to the top, only to see it bumped by an online giant. Whether or not it’s good for society, it obviously isn’t good for the individual who gets pushed aside.

    “No so many years ago, the ideal in higher education was to let ideas flow, to share knowledge, to celebrate knowledge. People have become so obsessed with “monetizing” everything, that now instead of being interested in growing, exchanging and spreading knoweledge, we know fret that somebody might compete with MY knowledge or steal MY knowledge and that entity should somehow be suppressed.”

    I never suggested Knol should be suppressed; I support it – cautiously.

    As for materialism, I agree that people are too obsessed with money. On the other hand, many of us need money to pay the rent. This brings us sto the classic dilemma: Should people get paid for sharing knowledge? Does the fact that they’re getting paid make them somehow biased or unreliable?

    Wikipedia’s articles are in a sense more “pure” because the contributors aren’t paid. On the other hand, anonymity makes it easier for them to write crap. Knol introduces the profit motive, but it also allows authors to sign their names to their work. At the same time, visistors will be allowed to vote on “competing” articles. I think that will be an awesome experiment.

    “The whole paranoia and possessiveness thing is darned depressing. Google has many wonderful services and products. Many of them are not dominant and have better competitors but still are out there for people to use if they like. I don’t see Google as being anything like Microsoft.”

    I think Wikipedia desperately needs competition. In fact, I think there should be three or more great bodies of online knowledge – Wikipedia, Knol and at least one other.

    I further think that Google and Microsoft are polar opposites. As near as I can tell, Google is pretty ethical for the most part, and it certainly understands innovation.

    Still, any corporation of that size is a potential menace. Even if Google’s founders are really cool people, who’s going to run Google fifty years from now?

    So, no, it isn’t paranoid to ask questions, nor is it bad to be possessive about projects you’ve slaved over all your life. It’s one thing for another person to create a better product; it’s quite another to lose your work to copyright infringement, corporate games or whatever.

  • automatic_ab

    “What is Google actually bringing to the ‘net with this ‘knol’?

    Wikipedia are there already.

    This is not a ‘groundbreaking’ product.”

    One step closer to ruling the world…

  • http://www.geobop.org/ geosite

    Google – rule the world? I think that depends to a great extent on the people who use (or don’t use) Google.

    I just finished my first knol, titled Wikipedia. It made me do a lot of thinking about online references, including WIkipedia and its competitors. I came to the conclusion that there’s no perfect approach. Wikipedia and Knol both have their strong points, but each one is also deeply flawed.

    As I see it, the only solution is to create a series of online referneces, each with its own operating guidelines and conventions. One other suggestion I made is that Wikipedia and its rivals should all be honest about their shortcomings.

    In fact, Wikipedia does feature articles about Wikipedia bias, inaccuracy, etc. However, I think I’ve discovered some areas where it misses the mark.

    Hopefully, Knol will do better.