Google’s Death Knol For Some?

In some strange, twisted sort of a way, Google’s foray into social content, aka Knols, is a tip of the hat to entities whose results have started to show up really high in the search results — Wikipedia and Mahalo, for example. Mathew Ingram points out this can hurt not only them, but others as well. It is also a sign that Google (GOOG) is finally beginning to show its monopolist claws.

It is also a tactical admission by a company that believed that the machine was more powerful than the “human” that it isn’t the case. First, what are knols? Udi Manber, Google’s VP of Engineering describes knols as …

…a new, free tool that we are calling “knol”, which stands for a unit of knowledge. Our goal is to encourage people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it….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.

He goes on to extoll the virtues of authors, and how they need to be highlighted. This is a smackdown on Wikipedia, where the individual contributions remain part of the collective and are not the focus — and rightfully so. As Nick Carr writes,

For the past year, Chief Wikipedian Jimmy Wales has been doing a lot of trash-talking about taking on Google in the search business. Now Google’s striking back.

Whether it will be successful or not remains to be seen. Now if you think about it, the knol, despite its fancy name, is nothing but a classic move by a quasi-monopolist that wants to ensure it keeps getting the raw material (in this case, content on knols) for free, so that it can keep selling it at a premium. I stopped believing in Google’s “do no evil” ethos a long time ago, so that is why I am worried by comments this like from Manber:

Our job in Search Quality will be to rank the knols appropriately when they appear in Google search results.

Which is to say that they won’t start making knols appear higher in the search results. Maybe it is the jet lag, but I don’t see knols as revolutionary as others are making them out to be. After all, you can set up a blog, make an expert page, maintain it and even put Google Ad Sense to monetize it. So how does this make knols special?

Sure there are APIs that allow knols to be shared with others, and Google maintains that it won’t give special weight to the knols, but who’s to know what they do inside their four walls. Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan, who has the single best post on this subject, is a bit disconcerted by knols, it seems.

Google using its page rank system to its own benefit. Think of it this way: Google’s mysterious Page Rank system is what Internet Explorer was to Microsoft in the late 1990s: a way to control the destiny of others.

(Check out my interview with Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia)