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The Failure Of Knol Shows, Again, That The Big Company With All The Money Doesn't Always Win

from the it-ain't-so-easy dept

Ross Pruden's recent article highlighted numerous cases where the conventional wisdom, that "the big company always wins" when it goes up against an upstart, is quite frequently wrong. Big companies with lots of money often don't understand the "real" reasons behind successful upstarts and so they end up doing cargo cult copying, where they copy some superficial elements without really understanding the underlying reason for why things succeed.

It looks like we have yet another example of that, with the failure of Google Knol. I have to be honest: I had almost completely forgotten about Knol's existence. When it launched, the press lauded it as a "Wikipedia-killer." Looking back, when it launched I at least expressed some skepticism about the project, noting its similarity to other projects that had failed to gain serious traction. I did give Google the benefit of the doubt in that, if anyone could make such a project work, perhaps it would be Google. However, the fact that it fell off the face of the earth so quickly and is now almost totally abandoned suggests I should have listened to my original skepticism.

Still, it's natural for people to assume that a big company with tons of money entering a space formerly defined by an upstart means that the giant company will come to dominate that space. And it does happen... sometimes. But less frequently than people realize. Google recognized the importance of creating more online knowledge, but didn't quite understand the important community aspects of Wikipedia. In many ways, it's the same issue we recently discussed about Paul Ford's concept of "why wasn't I consulted?" driving successful web community projects. Very little in Knol was about solving the WWIC issue. Instead, it was blank slate knowledge spewing, with little community aspects. In fact, I'd argue that what Quora is doing today is a lot more of what Knol really wanted to be early on but failed. While I'm not as sold on Quora as others have been, there's no denying that it's been growing and getting tremendous usage and has some valuable information. And a large part of that is because it built on that WWIC concept much better than a project like Google Knol.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 20th, 2011 @ 12:45pm

    Google is full of very smart people with the social skills of your average geek. They see the programming steps required, they don't see the social steps needed.

    Knol started at a major disadvantage, Wikipedia was already there and for the most part already stable enough and reliable enough to be considered a reference. First mover advantage put Knol is a very poor place to start.

    Add in the Google staff's inability to deal with social issue (including customer support for anything they do) and you have a recipe for disaster. It doesn't help that a lot of people would not get involved because they don't want to help make Google bigger than it already is.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 20th, 2011 @ 12:46pm

    Google is full of very smart people with the social skills of your average geek. They see the programming steps required, they don't see the social steps needed.

    Knol started at a major disadvantage, Wikipedia was already there and for the most part already stable enough and reliable enough to be considered a reference. First mover advantage put Knol is a very poor place to start.

    Add in the Google staff's inability to deal with social issue (including customer support for anything they do) and you have a recipe for disaster. It doesn't help that a lot of people would not get involved because they don't want to help make Google bigger than it already is.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    crade (profile), Jan 20th, 2011 @ 1:19pm

    Microsoft has tons of these stupid applications that try to compete in every single market. They've got a vmware wannabe, a crystal reports wannabe, you name it, microsoft has a lamo version of it. Every once in a while they decide to put effort into a space, and usually that means the good version is shut down and the only choice left is the microsoft version.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 20th, 2011 @ 2:49pm

    Re:

    But the MS versions of the products get purchased because clueless IT execs buy them after hearing the sales pitch without consulting staff. Microsoft's Crystal reports knock off is truly awful as is TFS, Sharepoint etc etc etc.

    History has proven that isnt the always the best that wins in the marketspace.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 20th, 2011 @ 5:40pm

    Quora

    While I'm not as sold on Quora as others have been, there's no denying that it's been growing and getting tremendous usage and has some valuable information.

    I was interested by the description, so I checked out Quora. The site seems very poorly designed to me. Either they meant for only registered members to be able to view their data, in which case letting Google index them was a bad idea, or they meant for their information to be publicly visible, in which case the main page should feature more than a login prompt.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Matthew, Jan 20th, 2011 @ 10:43pm

    I'm glad

    You know I'm really glad to see these sometimes failures of Google. This, Google Wave, and Google Video are the ones that I can think of off the top of my head. Google has successes interspersed with failures, which tells me two things. First, it means that they are not scared to take risks, even if these risks do not pan out. Second, that failure doesn't almost completely destroy their company. They have wiggle room. Both of these things make me confident that I will see more and better offerings from Google in the future.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    Jose_X, Jan 21st, 2011 @ 6:01am

    Re: Re:

    Software has another very key hook: interoperability and integration barriers, essentially trade secrets that are very easy to create to foil seamless interfacing from competitors. As past secrets are discovered, new ones get pushed out as updates to the clients.

    If it weren't for open source software, Microsoft would very possibly be ridiculously dominant (Google leverages open source quite a bit, leaving them with maximum flexibility and room for efficient integration of their servers while avoiding very costly per use fees.. ditto for yahoo and just about every large successful web firm).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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