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.