Is Google's gamble Wikipedia's nightmare?

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It's hard to understate the importance of Wikipedia in today's web. Entries for the community-based encyclopedia often appear atop the heap in Google's search results on a myriad of topics, and pop culture references to Wikipedia have become ubiquitous.

But despite its massive reach, Wikipedia offers scant room for brands to play, beyond monitoring a selection of entries -- a reality that gives more than a few brand managers sleepless nights.   

But Knol, a new product from Google, could offer brands more than a reference headache.

Writing on the project's blog, Udi Manber, VP engineering, didn't call out Wikipedia by name, but his goal for the project clearly takes aim at the encyclopedia's strength.

"A knol on a particular topic is meant to be the first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read," Manber wrote. "The goal is for knols to cover all topics, from scientific concepts, to medical information, from geographical and historical, to entertainment, from product information, to how-to-fix-it instructions."

According to Hitwise, more than half of Wikipedia's traffic comes from Google. While Knol and Wikipedia may not be direct competitors in terms of style, the two do appear to be on a collision course for top billing when it comes to web queries.

Or, as John Barrett, director of research at Park Associates, wrote in his blog, "What Google is essentially trying to do is 'privatize' the Wikipedia idea and make it into a business." 

What is Knol?
While many have called Knol a competitor to Wikipedia, it's certainly not the same thing. Unlike Wikipedia, Knol won't be anonymous. Instead, authors will be linked to their articles, something Google hopes will help promote better accuracy and in turn help attract wary advertisers into a space dominated by questionable content.

The site, which is still in beta, also will eventually allow authors to enable ads and share in the revenue, making it a serious departure from the community-driven experience at Wikipedia. Users will be able to submit, comment on and -- to some extent -- edit Knol articles.

(In a Wired blog post, Scott Gilbertson pointed out the inherent contradiction of putting the author front and center while simultaneously allowing for community editing. So far, Google hasn't elaborated on that contradiction, and there's no way of knowing how the search giant will settle debates between authors and the community while adhering to its promise not to edit content.)

Knol's beta status, Google's relatively tight lips on the matter, and the limited number of screenshots means most of the project's details will remain in the dark for now. But for many observers of the reference space, Knol needs to be viewed through a wider lens, drawing on aspects of Yahoo's Answers, search engine upstart Mahalo and Squidoo.

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Comments

Andrew Stergiou
Andrew Stergiou January 28, 2008 at 4:13 PM


imediaconnection.com 1/28/2008 3:26:30 PM

Wikipedia versus Google Inc. by Andrew Stergiou

Creative copyright 2008 Attribution no modification or commericial use allowed otherwise all rights reserved.

In response to Published: January 25, 2008
Is Google's gamble Wikipedia's nightmare? By imediaconnection.com columnist Michael Estrin, http://www.imediaconnection.com:80/content/18141.asp

I am highly critical of wikis and Wikipedia in particular; as I don't first of all feel that the software was designed for the purposes a more limited number of less diverse users that it is being used now in the instance of Wikipedia:

Namely for use by thousands if not tens of thousands of users worldwide many of which are anonymous who strive to maintain what I feel a delusionary utopia.

As a Not-for-profit Executive Director:

The problem of Google Inc. versus Wikipedia, raises another even more significant problem of great importance, which points out the antithetical nature of many/most if not all corporations exist in the community:

Where corporations exist to use, abuse, and exploit community for their own benefit; and, use community in what threatens society as a whole; in addition to community stability. In corporate greed corrupting the world with duplicitous double speak fashioned by propagandist publicists who work for them; and,

Whereas multinational monopoly corporations disempowers and unempowers community involvement in what Ronald Reagan affirmatively referred to as an asset in America's long tradition of volunteerism.

The tactical issues of weither or not as Mr. Michael Estrin says

"Knol [as] a competitor to Wikipedia,” is or is "not the same thing. Unlike Wikipedia, Knol won't be anonymous. Instead, authors will be linked to their articles”, or that "Google hopes will help promote better accuracy and in turn help attract wary advertisers into a space dominated by questionable content.”, or "will eventually allow authors to enable ads and share in the revenue”; and, "Users will be able to submit, comment on and -- to some extent -- edit Knol articles” is immaterial .
.
What is significant (in what is nothing more that another cheap flimsy corporate effort to corrupt society as if "Satan himself”, is as materially as Mr. Michael Estrin points out that Google's actions are "a serious departure from the community-driven experience at Wikipedia.”.

To be admonished, sanctioned, and prohibited, though that is not to be perhaps expected since the Neo-Conservative Republican appointed FCC Chairman and his lackeys on one hand have used the internet's diversity as its excuse to loosen controls on monopolization in the consolidation of newspapers, radio, and TV, what are already very competitive markets to the dismay of all those who would appreciate Free enterprise but find none in what is government's obscene sweet heart relationships with monopolistic multinational corporations.

Karen Christensen
Karen Christensen January 25, 2008 at 9:48 AM

It seems that a recent European report on the social and economic dangers posed by Google initiatives, and the possibility of collusion, hasn't reached U.S. observers, and as the report specifically discusses Google and Wikipedia, iMedia readers might want to take a look: http://www.iicm.tugraz.at/iicm_papers/dangers_google.pdf

I wrote about this from an encyclopedia publisher's perspectives a few weeks ago, too: http://www.berkshirepublishing.com/blog/?p=888. I've written often about the transformations underway in reference publishing and find the various start-ups similar to Wikipedia both encouraging and useful--because they help me understand the value of our encyclopedias, and also see ways we can adapt and enrich them with social media. Happy to talk about this, too!

Karen CHRISTENSEN ???
CEO, Berkshire Publishing Group ???????
??+1 413 528 0206 | Skype: karen_christensen