Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) has become the new EF Hutton: when it speaks, people listen. So when I first heard about Google Knol I was curious and intrigued: a true competitor to Wikipedia? A new spin on expert networks? An easier way to discover high value content? These are all areas about which I have a high degree of interest and some degree of knowledge.
But after reading the description on the Official Google Blog and thinking about it here is what I've concluded: NO BIG DEAL. Unless I am missing some big conceptual point here (which is always possible, of course), I don't see any benefits to creators of high-value content that don't already exist - and are perhaps manifest in better ways - through personal blogs and message forms, vertical search engines and Wikipedia.
I know, going against the Google juggernaut risks intellectual humiliation and disdain, but is this merely an effort to devise and gain control of new sources of ad dollars? I mean, at its core, even in light of its stated mission, isn't this how Google makes money? And is this truly a vehicle for achieving the grand mission, (better) organizing all the world's information? Personally, I don't think so.
So using the illustration provided on the Google Blog - insomnia - consider these alternatives:
- Wikipedia entry: Collaborative, multi-participant, human-edited definition
- OrganizedWisdom WisdomCard: Domain-specific, expert-constructed vertical search result
- ehealth Forum topic: Issue-focused, community discussion forum with expert participation
- dr.greene.com article: Issue-focused, community questions with expert response
So let's consider the characteristics of each of these media and how they compare to Google Knol:
- Wikipedia: As close as we've gotten to aggregate knowledge. Social mission. Human-edited "wisdom of crowds" results. No advertising. No specific credit for entries. In my opinion, a fairly high-quality starting point for information discovery.
- OrganizedWisdom: Vertical search for health and wellness. Social mission with commercial overlay. Human-constructed domain expert results. Targeted advertising and affiliate relationships. Specific credit for entries and payment for creating entries. High-quality results. (Disclosure: I am an investor in OrganizedWisdom).
- ehealth Forum: Issue-specific discussion board with expert participation. Social mission with commercial overlay. Targeted participation from community members of varying reputation. Targeted advertising. Community identities are known. Mixed results.
- dr.greene.com: Issue-specific Q&A with expert response. Social mission with commercial overlay. Expert-moderated community discussion. Targeted advertising. Question submitters identified per instructions. High-quality results.
Now let's consider some of the key features of Google Knol:
- Page owner ("author" in Google parlance) is known and gets full credit
- Readers can suggest edits subject to owner acceptance
- Ease of publishing/editing pages
- Platform may give rise to multiple Knols on a single subject
- Community ratings and reviews of specific pages
- Ability to take advertising
Now let's consider my options first as a content creator, then as a content consumer:
- Content creator: First question: do I want recognition and do I want to make money? If no, then Wikipedia is a good place to start. I can contribute my knowledge in an easy lightweight manner, with an eye towards enhancing the world's knowledge. If yes, then Wikipedia isn't the place for me. So what are my options? I can start my own blog, sell my services to a vertical content aggregator or expert network willing to pay for my expertise or establish a Google Knol.
- If I start my own blog, I can build my own brand, my own site, use it is a robust platform not only for sharing expert insights but also for collaboration, sharing materials, commerce, etc. It is mine. And I can do with it what I please. It can be indexed. It can be linked to. I can generate ad revenue. My reputation will be reflective of who links to me, how many people subscribe to me and my overall traffic.
- Now if I sell my services to an expert network, I can get paid for my knowledge and the intensity of my involvement. I can also build brand and monetize this however I see fit over time. I don't control my own real estate as I do with a blog but I also don't need to maintain it, either. This is a very targeted, very parameterized way of monetizing my expertise.
- Or I can start a Google Knol. Starting a knol is easy, seemingly not unlike starting a blog. But why would others contribute to my knol as a source of knowledge (as opposed to discussion)? If I don't care about money or credit, am I really going to choose someone's knol over Wikipedia? And if I do care about money or credit, I'm not getting any of that from submitting an edit or addition to someone's knol so why do it? I really don't know. There will likely be competing knols on major topics of interest which may be good for the content consumer but not so great for the content creator. So from the content creation standpoint, I'm not sure I get it. Unless community involvement is not really what you're after and what you are really after is being indexed by Google, becoming known on a particular topic and having Google help you to generate ad revenue. Then I get it.
- Content consumer: If I am interested in better understanding insomnia on a general level, where am I going to go first? Depends on my level of knowledge. If I know of a good vertical search engine, I'll go there first because the information is going to be highly targeted, highly relevant and from reputable sources. If I don't, my backup would be Wikipedia. It may not be comprehensive, it may not be perfect, but it is going to give me a lot of information and links that are valuable and my lead me in the right direction.
Would I choose a knol over a vertical search engine or Wikipedia? I'm not sure why. With many knols on a given topic I may be barraged with alternative views that could be more annoying than anything else, similar to doing a fairly unstructured search in Google that yields 85,000 results where the one best suited for me might be on page 86. Sure, there are community ratings of each knol, so I might simply decide to read the most highly rated knol in my area of interest. But depending upon the nature of the topic and the complexity of the issue, the community rating may or may not be reflective of the value of the information.
If I go to a vertical search engine that is expert-powered, I know I am getting results from a highly reputable source. This is very valuable. With a knol, it is pure wisdom of crowds at work, which might not be the most comforting vehicle with which to gauge reputation depending upon the complexity of the topic.
So based on what I know, which is admittedly little, this is where I am coming out. I don't see Google Knol as either a threat to Wikipedia or almost any other information discovery medium, for that matter. But maybe I'm just missing it.