Google Knol: A Step Too Far?

News broke late yesterday that Google was preparing to launch a new site call Knol that will combine parts of Wikipedia and Squidoo to create a new user generated authoritative online knowledgebase of everything.

All the details aren’t fully clear yet. What we do know is that Google will offer a revenue share from each page: “If an author chooses to include ads, Google will provide the author with substantial revenue share from the proceeds of those ads,” although we don’t know at this stage how much. We know that unlike Squidoo or other sites who offer a percentage share of advertising revenue, Knol cuts out the middle man. Think of it this way; presuming Google normally splits 50% (no one knows the exact number, at it changes at different levels) of revenue from an Adsense unit with a normal publisher, in the case of someone like Squidoo or even a blog with writers writing on a rev share model they then get a percentage of the 50%; Knol on the other hand could offer a proper 50% of the actual original cost of the ad, not a percentage of the percentage: that is not only a great big advantage, it’s also verging on unfair competition.

One of the recurring themes in the comments on the earlier post and in discussions I’ve had on Twitter and elsewhere since the announcement is that people are already questioning whether this is a step too far for Google. As Paul Short said in a comment:

Is anyone else seeing a shift in the way Google is doing things? I’m seeing a company whose core product relied on aggregating and sifting content from other sites, to a move to them building (or buying) content (or the underlying technology) that they have ultimate control over.

He’s right. Google is moving away from simply indexing the worlds content to being a content provider itself. Of course Google in response would argue that it is simply facilitating user generated content (like with Blogger), that ultimately they are the host as opposed to the creator, but it still competes with existing content providers, many of whom rely on Google search results for their living. Which takes us to question of search results.

Google has already said that Knol results will be in Google’s index, presumably on the first page, and very possibly at the top: “Our job in Search Quality will be to rank the knols appropriately when they appear in Google search results.” Google wants Knol to be an authoritative page: “A knol on a particular topic is meant to be the first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read” and that’s a direct challenge to Wikipedia. Some TechCrunch commenters have suggested that this might be the end of Wikipedia, but that’s a fanciful proposition. Wikipedia isn’t going anywhere, but having said that they do rely on Google for a good portion of their traffic. If Wikipedia is replaced in the first few results on Google with pages from Knol, Wikipedia traffic will decrease, and possibly as a consequence so will broader participation on Wikipedia.

I’ve long since subscribed to the “Google is my lord and savior” argument and gave up caring about privacy and other such things years ago, but Knol moves into new territory. Moves by Google into mobile phones with Android and the bid for mobile spectrum in the United States should be welcomed, because they bring new competition into a traditional market; likewise Google’s attempts to break into radio and TV advertising. Knol on the other hand brings the power of Google into a marketplace that is already rich with competition, and a marketplace where Google can use its might to crush that competition by favoring pages from Knol over others, on what is the worlds most popular search engine.

Is Google’s Knol a step too far? Leave a comment or vote below:

Is Google Knol a step too far?

Total Votes: 5001
Started: December 14, 2007