Is Google “Knol” a Big Deal? Probably Not Yet

I was reading the official Google Blog about their upcoming “knol” product launch – “Official Google Blog: Encouraging people to contribute knowledge” yesterday. After reading this post, it sounds a lot like FUD to me. I’ve never really accused Google of FUD-slinging before, but this sounds like a pre-announcement of a product that still has a lot of work to do before it’s ready to see the light of day. The idea of adding curated, expert-authored content is not new for the web. It’s not even new for Google – remember Google Co-Op and the customized search engines built by industry experts.

This is highly unlikely to impact Wikipedia – Wikipedia is a top 10 Alexa site. I don’t see Wikipedia becoming any less valuable or suffering a serious traffic decline unless Google does something to remove or demote in its search results or unless they run out of money and can’t scale the service with demand. Until I see a lot more details on what the “Knol” product is, it’s hard for me to see how it will unseat what is today the dominant source of curated information on the web (Wikipedia).

This might impact Wikia and Mahalo, but it’s way to early to tell – Those products are both really new (one hasn’t even launched yet) and the bigger challenge they face isn’t competition from Google over “Knol” – it’s getting users to contribute to their system instead of Wikipedia and getting users to prefer using these “curated” search products instead of a more popular basic web search like Google. Changing user behavior away from the status quo is a much harder challenge than simply beating another competitor.

I’ll be curious to see what the “Knol” product winds up being once it gets released.

  • Wikipedia isn’t a fashion accessory and nor is Google, but there does a come a point where feature creep starts kicking in or it becomes hip to arrange a whole lot of miniature logo’s and creating KOOL names, without answering a far more key question – which is not how to encourage people to contribute (this is always going to be a minority of really smart folk) but how to encourage people to learn to be smarter with information management as a personal skill. There is a point of diminishing returns for the user that sets in when there is simply a puzzling array of sign-on logo’s appearing, which really look cool on a blog but if they begin to become things you put on your blog (web furniture) rather than web tools. The user on the whole remains a passive player unless there is a visual shift of how we think.

    There need not be a constant drive to turn everything that is tangible into everything virtual, but a smarter exercise of marrying offline and online resource. If we really want a KNOL system to kick off in a big way, then start partnering with public librarians and turning them into information aggregaters and blend these resources more intelligently – so that the tangible isn’t merely competing with the virtual, but the virtual is creating a new and better form of the tangible. This means in effect that public libraries are networked in a new way to become hubs or clearing houses for information – which also means the creation of new knowledge jobs for intelligent people and a partnership between those who say that they represent the common good and those who have the public revenue (and hopfully imagination) to develop the common good.

    I, myself, am not writing this as a message to the world per se, but as a personal exercise I conduct in my own information management and how I process and manage this is a training ground in both thinking and the adapting my own knowledge management skills. I can see the value of wikipedia but public libraries already have some relationship with private database offerings such as E-Library etc, but what we see is a direct enhancement or compliment of those whose professions have always been about organizing information, (and indeed if an extra layer is required in terms of quality review, why not bring public university resources into play as well). I think linear thinking of traditional vs new is in reality an entrenched 20th century mindset and we do need to start looking at information as a total system (virtual and tangible combined) and come up with some creative new plays that starts building a whole new kind of public information play.

    M.

  • Charles I think I have said much better at the Delhi Planet then what I initially thought out here.

    M.