Google Knol – Google’s Play To Aggregate Knowledge Pages

Move over Wikipedia, Yahoo Answers, Mahalo, and Squidoo. Maybe. That’s because Google’s testing its own service to let people build a repository of knowledge. In fact, knowledge forms the core of the service’s name: Google Knol.


Screenshot of Google Knol page (feel free to use this and those below, just link to this story, please)

Google Knol is designed to allow anyone to create a page on any topic, which others can comment on, rate, and contribute to if the primary author allows. The service is in a private test beta. You can’t apply to be part of it, nor can the pubic see the pages that have been made. Google also stressed to me that what’s shown in the screenshots it provided might change and that the service might not launch at all.

NOTE: Knol has launched since this article was written. See Google’s Knol Launches: Like Wikipedia, With Moderation

As said, the service gets its name from the word "knowledge." A "knol" is a new term that Google has coined to stand for a unit of knowledge, and they’re also using that word as the name for pages within the service and the service itself.

Knol pages will be hosted by Google. Authors will have the option to enable Google ads and share in revenue. The pages will be made available to be found through a Knol-specific search as well as through Google itself or via other search engines, as they won’t be blocked from spiders. It’s likely the service will be found at knol.google.com or some similar standalone address, if it indeed finally launches. As said, a launch might not happen at all — there’s certainly no set date.

Why do Knol? Google vice president of engineering, Udi Manber, who heads the project, told me that is designed to help people put knowledge on the web that doesn’t currently exist, which in turn should make search better, since there will be better information out there.

Of course, Google already offers other content creation tools, such as Blogger and Google Page Creator. In addition, there are non-Google tools people already use to publish content, not to mention collaborative tools such as those I named at the opening of this article. Why yet another tool?

Manber said that Knol has a special focus on authors and a collection of tools that Google thinks is unique, and which in turn should encourage both content creation and readership.

"Knol is all about the authors," he said. "We believe that knowing who wrote a knol will significantly help users make better use of web content."

Somehow, I suspect Seth Godin over at Squidoo isn’t going to be buying the uniqueness argument. At least on the face of the screenshots (the one above is a page authored by Manber’s wife, who is testing the system), Squidoo offers pages featuring authors prominently, which also allow ratings and some collaboration.

Speaking of Squidoo leads to another issue. Back in July, Squidoo found spammers has caused the site itself to take a hit in Google rankings. For Google to offer a similar service seems an invitation to disaster. Won’t spammers overrun it, in the same way that many feel spammers have overrun Google-owned Blogger? Doesn’t that introduce yet more crud to ironically pollute Google’s own search results?

Manber said he expect spammers will end up in the system but that Google has already found ways to defeat them with Blogger and will take similar actions, if needed, with Knol. I’d agree, Blogger spam showing up in Google has gotten much better over the past few months. However, I don’t think I’d say the problem is defeated — and even if Google manages to wipe it out, it’s still potentially out there messing up other search engines.

This is not to say that all of Knol will be spam. Indeed, it’s likely that the prominence of having content within a Google-hosted service may attract some outstanding authors. Manber certainly expect this, saying that he hopes content is created that will be so good that Google itself will rank it tops in searches.

That leads to another problem. Is this Google going a step too far? Google abandoned its search roots long ago, the idea that it was just a pointer to other information. Today, its Search, Ads, & Apps mantra that CEO Eric Schmidt has repeated on several occasions underscores that offering content tools is fair game within its mission. But does hosting content turn it into a competitor with other content providers and set up an unfair advantage in gaining traffic that might otherwise flow to them?

Manber offered a number of reassurances that this is not the case:

  • The content will be owned by the authors, who can reprint it as they like
     
  • Authors can link out at will (and links might NOT have nofollow attributes on them, allowing reputation to flow from Knol pages to others)
     
  • APIs will allow Knol information to be used by others
     
  • Allowing ads other than Google’s might be a possibility (though this was something I raised, rather than Google suggesting itself. Personally, I highly doubt this would ever happen)
     
  • Google will give no special weight to these pages; if they rank, they rank because they compete with other pages and win the algorithm race

Of course, Manber did say that Google could better tell which of the Knol pages were of high quality by looking at signals such as ratings. Because the content database is hosted at Google, it could easily pull the rating info in without having to "guess" or "scrape" it off pages.

My concern in hearing this was that other pages with ratings might not have their information taking in as a quality signal, since Google couldn’t as easily harvest it. Thus, Knol pages might get an unfair advantage. To that, Manber stressed that he didn’t see such signals being used at first, and if they were down the line, Google might seek a way for others to provide similar signals to its search engine.

Still, I have concerns about Knol in hurting independent authorship, just as some of the other services I’ve named do as well. Go back two years ago, and searches rarely came up with Wikipedia pages. Today, it almost feels required that Wikipedia gets one if not two listings on Google, due to its indented results feature.

The traffic that Wikipedia gets from Google has inspired others. Yahoo Answers pages show up in Google for topics; Mahalo would love to rank for top terms — and I’ve already mentioned Squidoo’s presence in search results. Now Google gets into the picture to have its own hosted content compete for the dwindling diversity of results on the search results page. It begins to feel like the knowledge aggregators are going to push out anyone publishing knowledge outside such aggregation systems.

I’ll have much more to say about this as I continue on from my Search 3.0 story and into the next chapter, Search 4.0, that’s touched on in the earlier piece. In short, at some point search engines cross over a line where they’re providing more information than simple answers or pointing out, which changes them from being a search service. Mahalo’s had a fast evolution along these lines, with some pages that are simply content destinations than search results. What happens when and if the major search engines do the same? Getting that balance of human knowledge, compiled information, but still being a pointer is important. If Knol launches, Google’s going to face that challenge square on.

Of course, in some ways Google might not have a choice. Yahoo has Yahoo Answers; Microsoft has its own answers service; Wikipedia has experienced huge growth, and things like Mahalo get some attention since they use humans, which Google is seen to ignore. A service like Knol might be necessary to stay competitive.

Here’s more of the screenshot from above:

Here’s how the bottom of the Knol page looks:

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: Knol

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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