Knol: Google vs. the Internet

Josh Catone

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?