Google Knol, the Googley competition for Wikipedia, was announced with some fanfare and really seemed like a great idea. The ‘knol’ stands for “Knowledge”, and articles are written by people who verify their identities and presumably have some knowledge of the topic. Community ratings are used to filter good from bad knol posts, presumably leaving the best topical coverage at the top of the knol heap.
However as with many Google innovations outside of pure keyword search knol appears to be making gaining little traction with the internet community. I say this because I rarely see the sited linked to or referenced by blogs or websites and also from my own knol page for “Beijing” which as the top “Beijing” and “Beijing China” listing you’d think would have seen fairly big traffic over the past months which included the Beijing Olympics. Yet in about six months that page has only seen 249 total views – that is less than many of my blog posts would see in just a few days here at Joe Duck.
So what’s up with the decisions people make about using one resource over another? Like Wikipedia Google Knol is an excellent resource. Reading my Beijing page, for example, would give you some quick and helpful insights into “must see” attractions there. It’s no travel guide but it would prove a lot more helpful than many sites that outrank it at Google for the term “Beijing”. Google appears to have relegated their own knol listings to obscure rankings – perhaps because linkage is very low given the low use of knol. Like many Google search innovations knol appears bound to the dustbin of obscurity as Wikipedia continues to dominate the rankings for many terms (as they should – it’s generally the best coverage although generally very weak for travel because they fail to capture commercial info adequately).
My simple explanation would be that we are prisoners of habit and have trouble managing the plethora of information resources that lie – literally – at our fingertips. We all have yet to understand much about how the internet works, and how inadequate a picture one gets if they simply stick to a keyword search and hope for the best.
Speaking in London Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales made an obvious but important observation: the collaborative aspect of the internet – what many would call a key aspect of “Web 2.0”, is still in its infancy.
Although Wales seemed to focus on video collaboration and how that could improve I’d suggest that the real power of the online medium will *not* be video – rather we’ll find that many different combinations of photos, videos, and community will evolve into the next key style of web interaction.
This could be along the lines of a more powerful and more ubiquitous Flickr, acting within loose alliances of connected niche sites connected by Facebook and Myspace and Google Social and Open ID.
The niche aspect of the internet is already clear in Politics, where you find blogs and commenters and social networkers sticking pretty close to home, preaching to their own choirs and repeating the same themes throughout loosely connected social networks dominated these days by either Obama supporters or Obama bashers (who generally are McCain supporters but almost never talk about McCain!).
Obviously there are many, many exceptions, but if you look at many of the most successful major blog efforts it is interesting how partisan they are and how uninterested they are in providing more than ideological fodder consistent with what their readers already think: DailyKOS, DrudgeReport, Huffington Post, WorldNewsDaily are a handful of commercially successful sites that add little to an informed discussion but remain more popular than the far more balanced views you’ll find elsewhere. It’s encouraging that CNN and other major news outlets are looking more to interactivity and blogging, though I predict they’ll find it very challenging to monetize these social media assets in the amounts to which they are accustomed. As with Yellow Page websites, I think major media blog sites may struggle with the difference between advertising costs and expectations online and off.
Google knol is a promising development in online information, where “experts” will write concise, authoritative articles on many topics and the community will rank and comment on those articles. It may be a great way to combine quality content with social networking, though I’m not clear if the quality content producers will be rewarded with more than just the knol-edge that they have brought more good info into the world.
Although I don’t think they’d talk much about this, I think Google has begun to understand the degree to which adsense has hurt the online information landscape – basically by rewarding those who are most clever at flooding the web with low quality content rather than those who have provided high quality content. Likewise with linking, where SEO abuses and excesses and Google decisions have made it increasingly hard to separate the information wheat from the adsense chaff.
Enter knol, which will be a community policed content system. Basically a good idea, and as I’ve noted many times before Google is masterful at doing good things that happen to help them solve some potential revenue problems. As Nick Carr noted yesterday Google’s high ranks for un-monetized Wikipedia content aren’t putting many Christmas presents under the tree for Google, and knol may shift some advertising focus back in house.
Google’s about to launch yet another clever idea. Called knol, it will feature authoritative articles about any topic which will use community rating and input.
It will be interesting to see how this project compares to the excellent community produced content at Wikipedia, and also how Google handles the legitimate as well as scammy SEO tactics that always follow good content. Disallowing links to commercial sites would seem to inhibit an author’s ability to feature things, but allowing them opens up the chance of abuses of the type that made Wikipedia choose to use NOFOLLOW tag on all external Wikipedia links.
The good news – more quality information online – yippee!
Update – below was “fixed” with Wiki’s correction and Google’s refreshed index. Looks like the bogus snippet lasted about 1-2 days at Google – probably even less at Wikipedia because they have people reviewing the edits.
Search credibility is still a challenge for Google and Wikipedia as today’s second result for the query “New York City” indicates:
new york city has just been hit with a nuclear bomb and it has destroyed half of the cityand has left thousands dead. george bush says the people involved … en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_City – 315k – Cached – Similar pages
This is a very clear example of the challenges of information systems that have no human intervention in the routine editing process (Google) , or have defective human intervention (Wikipedia). What happened here was a malicious change of the NY City page at Wikipedia followed by Google’s spidering of the bogus content. I’m hardly a naive user but during my search tonight for NYC info I did a double take on this Google query result and quickly had to reason out that it was bogus. Wikipedia’s been fixed and this will probably go away within days when Google refreshes it’s listing, but you can sure see how things can get out of hand fast online.
A recent study suggested Wikipedia and Brittanica were about equally authoritative, and I do think this is an exception to the normal super quality at Wikipedia.