Last week, our Google Knol – Google’s Play To Aggregate Knowledge Pages article covered the Wikipedia-like Google Knol product that Google is testing and may release in a few months. In that article, I noted how Knol was aimed squarely at services like Wikipedia, Yahoo Answers, Mahalo, and Squidoo. Since them, some of those players have responded to the Google challenge. Below, a look at what they are saying, as well as the complicated issues when everyone wants a web site that ranks for everything — including Google.
Knol seems most like Seth Godin’s Squidoo site. In Seth’s response to the Knol announcement, he illustrates well how closely related the two seem to be by taking the example Knol page on insomnia that Google put out and reproducing it on Squidoo.
The Google page was Creative Commons licensed to allow reproduction, so there’s no harm, no foul in doing this. Of course, Knol authors will not be required to license out their content for reuse, to my understanding, so Squidoo won’t be able to pull this trick all the time.
Creating that page really highlights how bizarre the Google Knol move is, at least on the face of what Google says versus how it acts.
Google has been pretty vocal in the past that it doesn’t want to put out copy-cat products. Google products are supposed to go beyond the state-of-the-art and offer something unique that isn’t in the marketplace. And when Knol was announced, it was explained to me that it would be providing a unique tool. Yet, clearly Knol isn’t so unique that it can’t be reproduced on Squidoo.
Seth tries to put a positive spin on new competitor Google coming into his space:
Then, a funny thing happened: I started getting notes of congratulations. Of all the business models and all the internet ideas to jump on, Google had chosen ours. There were hundreds of neat ideas out there, but they picked ours.
That goes a long way to legitimize the original idea. It brings new users into the space. It makes it easier to find partners who want to exploit this ‘new’ idea. It allows room for creativity. It’s not about whether or not someone should be doing this. It’s about which place they want to do it in. That’s a huge change.
Just as the acquisition of blogger led to an explosion in blogging software, Google’s Knol makes the space pioneered by Squidoo a lot more attractive. Apparently, the best thing that can happen to you if you pick Google as a platform is that they mimic you.
Well, I don’t know that I’d be so positive. The folks at Technorati seem to have been struggling lately. Yet two years ago, we got to read similar positive sounding statements from then CEO David Sifry on how Google Blog Search has validated his model and made it easier for partners to know what Technorati was doing:
And a lot of the credit, he says, goes to Google. "I no longer have to explain what a blog is," he says. "It’s absolutely an easier business discussion now."
As I covered earlier, Squidoo already suffered a major blow when Google slapped it out of some rankings. And while Google is likely to suffer similar spam problems, a Google knowledge base has a huge advantage over Squidoo in being tied to the Google brand.
While it started as a supposed search engine, you only need to look at pages like this one about Google Analytics to understand that Mahalo is developing into a destination content site, rather than a search engine that points outbound. That page is an aggregation of knowledge about Google Analytics, which Mahalo founder Jason Calacanis would like to see ranking number one on Google for those words in the same way this page at Mahalo ranks for cheap hotel room.
That puts him in direct conflict with Squidoo, which would also like to rank tops for topics far and wide. Plus, Wikipedia is already the leader in actually doing this. I asked him if Google Knol getting into the space made him feel vindicated or scared. In between dealing with a missing passport, Jason twittered back:
Knol seems more like Wikipedia than Mahalo. Long articles etc. So, we might link to it over/with Wikipedia.
Also, maybe we post our "guides" to Knol and get 2x the earnings? Will you post your blog posts to it? Google our publisher?!
As I’ve already explained, I think Mahalo indeed has long articles and is heading down a path that makes it more akin to Wikipedia than a regular search engine, so I do think Knol is a threat. But Jason does raise an interesting point — potentially, he could publish on Knol, as well. The downside, of course, is that duplicate content issues could cause Mahalo to lose traffic from search engines, if Knol is seen as the more "primary" source. In addition, anyone publishing on Knol is going to be in a take-it-or-leave it position over how much ad revenue Google wants to share. Many would want more control than this.
John Battelle pinged Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales, who gave an answer similar to Seth and Jason:
Sounds more like Yahoo Answers than Wikipedia to me. It is not a collaborative tool, it is a competitive tool.
"We hope that knols will include the opinions and points of view of the authors who will put their reputation on the line. Anyone will be free to write. For many topics, there will likely be competing knols on the same subject. Competition of ideas is a good thing."
Very different from a wiki, and not likely to generate much of quality.
To be clear, Google has very much said to me that Knol is a collaborative tool. While there is one featured author, others can participate with that author’s permission. In terms of quality, I have to laugh along with some of those commenting on John’s blog that just because a sole author might be involved, Wikipedia would have better quality by involving many people. Commented Andrew Taylor:
The man whose website is an encyclopedia that can be edited by any idiot or liar says that knol is "not likely to generate much of quality"? I mean, fair play to Wikipedia it is mostly very good, but it strikes me as more than a little arrogant to dismiss knol, as if his particular system for user-generated content is the only one that might work.
As Michael Arrington points out today at TechCrunch, an interesting twist will be if Wikipedia content — which can also be repurposed with appropriate credit — starts showing up on Knol. That could help Wikipedia’s mission of disseminating information, though it doesn’t help Wikipedia itself earn money. But then again, it might also see Google taking action against its own pages in the same way it seemed to attack Answers.com earlier this year.
Aggregators: Can There Be Only One?
In my initial article on Knol, I expressed concern that so many knowledge aggregation sites trying to enjoy Wikipedia-like success potentially could push out from the top search results the independent, original content sources that they depend on.
Do we really need a dozen or more Wikipedia clones? Do we really want this as our search results:
Many I know have a love-hate relationship with Wikipedia. We love it because it really is often useful. We hate it because it seems to show up in every search result (Nick Carr today offers a fresh look at this today). I constantly get laughs when I remark that Wikipedia is required by law to be in the top listings for any search on Google. But I think we also tolerate this because of its non-profit nature.
In contrast, I see little reason to love the fact that Seth Godin has decided to make money by creating a web site that aims to rank well for everything. Ditto Jason Calacanis and Mahalo. That’s especially so when both of them have been dismissive of SEO or anti-SEO in the past (for Seth, see here in 2004 and here in 2005. For Jason, see here). To quote Seth from 2004:
SEOs are not a shortcut to success, at least not for 99% of the companies out there. You won’t win by fooling Google into listing you first for a common search term. You will win once you figure out the simple mechanics of turning strangers into friends and friends into customers.
Sorry, Seth — but from where I sit, Squidoo seems far less about turning strangers into friends and far more about trying to get a lot of traffic from search engines. And Jason, for all you’ve slammed against the SEO industry, you’ve created the ultimate SEO monster.
Now add into it this mix the fact that Google itself wants some SEO love? Seriously — do we really need Google to be competing against other sites in its own search listings? If Knol is going to launch, dare I suggest this? Make a special unit at the top of the page for a single Wikipedia link and then use some type of sitelinks style display to point to other aggregator sites such as Knol, Mahalo, Squidoo, or whatever. Somehow, someway, consolidate these types of sites and protect the variety and originality of core search results.
Postscript: Knol – Numbers to Lend Context to Google’s Announcement from Hitwise has some nice comparative stats on the popularity of the various knowledge sites.