Analysis of IT news

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Google wants to create its own encyclopedia

While Wikipedia is looking to create "a community-programmed search engine that competes with Google", Google is announcing Knol, its own online, community-built encyclopedia (in Google speak, a "knol" is a unit of knowledge).

Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales, claims Knol is more like Yahoo Answers than Wikipedia, but adds that "it's a much better story to post it as Google vs. Wikipedia". Nonetheless, the service is following the same principle than Wikipedia: letting users build an online repository of knowledge.

The rationale for Google is twofold: first, create another advertising channel. Because Wikipedia pages tend to rank quite high in the Google search engine, the latter is probably the main search tool used by people who are looking for a given Wikipedia entry. So there's some advertising money to be made here. Second, Google is trying to host more and more content. Its search engine might be the #1 search service used on the Web, it doesn't host the pages it's indexing, so there is always the risk of seeing users going to another service (fortunately for Google, it turns out users have some inertia even on the Internet). So having its own content allows to add more "stickiness" to its services.

Obviously, creating a sizable amount of content on its own would be a gargantuan task, so the best way is to let millions of users do the work, This rationale, sometimes known as crowdsourcing is already at play with YouTube and Blogger. Knol follows the same logic.

However, by highlighting authors, Google is using a completely different from Wikipedia which has always kept its contributors anonymous. Knol's strategy can be both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because granting ownership and recognition (not counting financial incentive thanks to ads) can be the best motivation. A curse because Google runs the risk of having ego clashes, duplicate pages competing on the same subject and less collaboration (most pages on Wikipedia are indeed produced by one or a few main author(s) but with plenty of small contributors).

It will also be interesting to see how is the system is abused, as it is for any service where users create the content. YouTube has to deal with countless illegal uploads of copyrighted content. Wikipedia has been fighting against several cases of fraud, from companies and celebrities who "edit" the entries bothering them to outright vandalism. One can safely predict that Knol will have its toll of abuse. The question is: what type and what will Google do about it? For instance, will there be a lot of false gurus pretending to be experts in a given subject just to artificially build some credentials?

Future will tell how will Knol evolve. If I had to take a guess, I would say that it will end up competing with Wikipedia on some type of content, but not all. Specialists craving for recognitions will love Knol. Pages that benefit from multiple contributors might be less developed than on Wikipedia. After all, why would you invest some time on a given knol if someone else takes the credit?

But back to Jimmy Wales' remark, whether the competition between the two services is real or imaginary, the perception of competition is not good publicity for Google, as the search giant here looks like the big, deep-pocketed commercial guy ready to take on the non-profit underdog.

1 Comments:

  • Je peux dire que le côté anonyme de Wikipedia me gêne (alors que j'utilise beaucoup Wikipedia qui est une vraie source pour moi).
    Donc, une dose de "réseau social" dans Knol me semble être une bonne chose...

    By Blogger Lefebvre, at 3:06 AM  

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