Google has always stated that its mission is to "organize the world's information."
Of course, the problem with that is not all of the world's information is online, meaning that Google has needed to reach out and try to pull more information online. That explains some of what it's done with Google Maps/Local as well as Google's various book scanning projects. Now Google has announced another initiative, perhaps aimed at that same goal: it wants people to contribute static pages of information
, which Google is calling "knols," short for a "unit of knowledge." It's certainly not a unique idea. In many ways it sounds quite similar to projects like Squidoo or Mahalo -- both of which involve getting people to create "pages" of information. Of course, both Squidoo and Mahalo (whether they intend to or not) really come off as Google arbitrage plays. They seek to create static pages that will rank high in Google in order to bring in traffic... which is then monetized by Google AdSense. The goal is that if you get ranked high enough, the cost of acquisition is lower than the income from the ads. Unfortunately, when you set up that type of incentive system, what you tend to get is borderline (or, in some cases, not so borderline) search engine spam.
Squidoo has been around for quite some time without getting much traction and Mahalo is too early to call. So, it's certainly reasonable to question whether or not knols will really take off beyond spammers (which, Google insists it will keep out
). If it were any other company doing this, it would make sense to be quite skeptical of how well it would catch on, but you have to provide Google at least the benefit of the doubt in terms of being able to leverage its brand to make this take off in some form or another. Certainly, Google has had its fair share of failed projects -- and I'm not yet convinced that people really want to create pages of info just for the hell of it. However, of any company trying this sort of thing, Google probably has the greatest chance to make it work.
Of course, no discussion on Google's knol project would be complete without comparing it to Wikipedia (as many smart commentators
are noting). However, in looking over the details, this doesn't seem to be a Wikipedia "competitor" so much as another reference for static information. It seems that the goals of this project are quite different than Wikipedia's -- which is focused on narrowing in on a clear, factual description of something. The idea of knols is almost completely antithetical to that concept. It's about recognizing a single individual's perspective on things, and allowing multiple people to put forth their perspective. Google is even hoping that people will create knols based on opinion, rather than trying to create factual pages. That's quite different. Neither approach is necessarily "better" -- they just serve different purposes, and assuming these knols catch on, what may be most interesting is to see how useful the combination of knols and Wikipedia are together. I've always believed that a Wikipedia-type approach works well for factual
information, where you have to zoom in
on a single point -- but it runs into trouble when you want opinion, insight and analysis, where you want multiple separate opinions rather than a merged one. That, at least is the theory behind our business
as well, so it's nice to see Google appears to have a similar perspective. However, much of the work that we've done with the Techdirt Insight Community has been in aligning various incentives for people to provide useful analysis and insights (rather than useless or meaningless ones) -- and it will be interesting to see how much Google has thought through the various incentives at play.