Is Google Crossing the Line with Knol?

By Daniel Scocco

I did say in the past that I like the way Google does business. Some people argue that they are trying to dominate the web. Well, as long as they try to do this with transparency and ethics that is not much you can condemn. Google is a publicly traded company inside a capitalism environment after all – its objective is to maximize the value for the share and stake holders. If there is a business where they think they can make a profit, they will enter it.

Now while I am willing to sing them praises when deserved, I also think that we should be vocal when they cross the line. If you paid attention to the launch of their expertise sharing website Knol, you probably saw a great deal of controversy coming together.

Knol is basically a Wikipedia clone, with some different features. One contributor, for example, can write several articles on the same topic (Squidoo style).

The main problem with this initiative, as many people have highlighted, is that fact that Google apparently is entering into the content business, creating a huge conflict of interest.

In the past Google executives have clearly stated to the web community that they would never enter into the content business. That was a required reassurance, else they would start competing directly with their partners (i.e. websites that appear on Google’s index, and websites that are part of the AdSense network).

Looks like they forgot about that reassurance.

Here is an example of how Knol could compete with About.com (property of the New York Times):

  1. About.com authors and contributors decide to give Knol a shot, and start putting their articles there
  2. Google gives high trust to Knol articles, and starts ranking them high on the search results
  3. The Knol articles of those authors and contributes start getting good traffic
  4. The authors and contributors put AdSense on the their Knol page (Google already allows that)
  5. Authors and contributors start making good money, and decide to write more on Knol and leave About.com
  6. The cycle repeats and reinforces itself, Knol starts to spread through the search results, and Adsense income soars
  7. The New York Times gets pissed off, but there is nothing much it can do about it

Now keep in mind that this example applies to any content publisher. Even bloggers. Suppose you blog about pink mobile phones, and you have the first result for that keyword on Google. Then someones decides to create a Knol page about pink mobile phones, and Google starts ranking that Knol page higher than yours (just because its their platform). Your search traffic would go down the drain (and possibly your money too, if you were monetizing the website).

Looks like a fantasy scenario, but it is not that much of a stretch. Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Land has been conduction some tests with Knol pages, and the results are surprising. 30% of all the Knol pages that he created for test pages were ranking on the first page of Google’s results after one day.

Aaron Wall also proved that with some backlinks involved a Knol page that duplicates a page of an existing web page will outrank the original.

I am not sure about you, but I don’t feel comfortable with that at all.

So what is your opinion, is Google trying to enter the content business with Knol? If so, do you think this is OK, or do you think they are crossing a line and should think better before going forward?



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44 Responses to “Is Google Crossing the Line with Knol?”

  • LachyG

    Yeah, pretty contraversial… I really think they are stepping the line, personally I will still choose Wikipedia anyday!

  • kerry

    I think the only solution is that About.com or any other such site treats its authors/contributors as partners and shares with them some percentage of money.

  • Glen Allsopp

    I’m not a huge fan of the idea myself, definitely something they are doing just to capitalise on the success of wikipedia. It is a non-profit foundation so I don’t like that they are going up against them.

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Kerry, this is not about About.com, it is about all content publishers, even blogger.

    Suppose you blog about mobile phones, and 40% of your traffic comes from Google. Then someone creates Knol pages covering your same topic, and Google starts ranking those Knol pages higher then yours.

    Would you like it?

  • Mirko Humbert

    I agree with your article Daniel, but how is that so different from the Youtube aquisition or Blogspot? Google already did enter the content market a while ago.

  • Ozz

    Why do we not consider blogger.com as crossing the line. The primary content contributors are not Google employees but the content rich system is owned by Google.

    Am I missing something as to why this is content rich Google owned system is any different than the Google owned Blogger.com?

  • Kevin Muldoon

    I have to agree with you Daniel. I think it’s very difficult for Google to act fairly if it in this situation – they have over 90% of the search traffic on the web and are clearly in a position to grow larger very quickly. The attraction of making money through the articles is obviously going to interest a lot of writers. and as you say, there is no topic that won’t be covered.

    With regards to About.com etc, that personally doesn’t interest me. There are some great articles on about.com but there are a lot of very poor quality articles too and the site in general is plastered with ads so from a users point of view I’d prefer to read a site like knol or wikipedia which isn’t blasting you with ads everywhere.

    From a business point of view I can understand why Google are doing this and you might argue this is a good move for them. However, as a webmaster I’m concerned about this move.

    You need to remember that Google’s job is to provide the most accurate search results for users and if they start providing knol pages ahead of more suitable articles on other sites then clearly there is a conflict of interests.

  • VENKATAKRISHNA NALAMOTHU

    Whenever any disruptive idea was implemented, established players write like this. This is a good opportunity for small publishers who find it difficult to break the Google rankings. Now everyone is equal.

  • Mefal

    I guess that we should start writing knols then…

  • Writer Dad

    I’m at a loss on this one. I think either side would have a lot of validity in their argument, and it would be hard for Google to find themselves on the right side, regardless. But look on the bright side; it gives us all a lot to talk about for the next few weeks, right?

  • Nick Russell

    I looks like Google wants to do to the virtual world what WalMart has done to the retail world.

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Mirko, good point. It is not that different indeed, and I wonder why we just started worrying about that now 🙂 .

    @Ozz, they are pretty similar indeed. Perhaps the only different is that knol is on Google’s domain itself, while blogger is not. But yeah we should be pissed about both of them!

    @Kevin, yeah I agree. In fact if soon we start seeing the search results with Knol, blogspot and YouTube links all over the place people will move to back to Yahoo for some diversity.

  • Jaan Kanellis

    Maybe. Their goal is search the worlds content and now it seems the secondary goal is become that content as well. Total control.

  • Missy

    According to comments by Matt Cutts (one on problogger), he mentions, that whatever results folks are seeing now on both Google and Yahoo, (for Knol pages) is transient.

    That the search engines fluctuate. To give it time.

    Do i believe this? I don’t see why Cutts, would go around the blogosphere stating this, if it weren’t true.

    What do you think about his comment(s)?

  • Breaking Dawn ebook

    I think Google is trying to enter the content business with Knol, and this is a very definite conflict of interest. Of course their search engines will prioritize a company that they own. This could also be seriously detrimental to Google’s traffic; if I search for a particular term and only Google and Google-owned businesses come up, I will start searching elsewhere.

  • Patrick

    How to make money: have others produce your content, get tons of traffic, insert ads.

    Google Knol is basically a monetized version of Wikipedia except that all outbound links are automatically no-follow links… So if someone wants to create a page using someone else’s site as “inspiration” and link to the original source, the Knol creator gets profit sharing and the original source doesn’t even get a followed link (which means that eventually Knol will probably rank higher on borrowed info than the original source).

    I don’t see this killing blogs, but I think it changes the blogging landscape. I see many people using knol an alternative to blogging for money.

    It would be very easy for people to quickly learn how to use this to their advantage, go to Wikipedia (or another online source), scrape content, polish it up, then repost it under their name/account. I wouldn’t be surprised if teams of people do this and work all hours of the night to be the first people in so they get more traction, higher rankings, and more money.

    The pages will also inherently rank higher than regular blog pages for most search terms (due to massive interlinking), so I imagine some people will make TON of money based on the revenue sharing scheme. If you can insert affiliate adds…. Look out.

    No, it won’t kill blogs. But I don’t think most people will be using it like Wikipedia (knowledge sharing). I think they will use it to make money.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    They are truly trying to enter ALL business…we keep hearing of all the “clones” of other tools/services they are planning on creating. It’s kind of scary!

  • Bill K.

    Looks like somebody out there is already selling a “Profit With Knols” program. The ad comes up on the Google search for Knol.

  • Daniel Bates

    Google has built a strong name for themselves by bringing people the results they want. If they assume that content that any idiot can post to their servers is “quality” and the public disagrees, than I think they’ll either have to downgrade it’s rankings or lose customers.

  • Ultimate Blogging Experiment

    this is a total ripoff. Google continues to copy other people and get away with it. If other people were doing this they wouldn’t be able to get away with this. I’ve never been very happy with special treatment.

  • shawal

    I think that Google just want their money back, adsense publisher just make their lost their money….

  • Winning Startups

    I think it’s going to be difficult to compete with wikipedia. it makes sense business wise for google to create their own versions of businesses instead of buying them though. weren’t they recently considering buying digg for $200 million? how hard would it be for them to just make their own version way cheaper?

  • Gustavo Cardial

    As some have said, Google has already entered into the content business – Blogspot and YouTube are all about content platforms.

    I really don’t know if this is good or bad, if I like it or if I don’t. Not yet.

    But remember that Google is a company, just like any other – they can try anything they want. They said “we will never enter into the content business”, but they changed their mind. Simple as that. That’s their right. Their SERPs are not “public domain”.

    We have our rights too… If the Knol pages on the SERPs start bothering us, for whatever reason, we can simply type “yahoo.com”, or any other search engine we want. As simple as that.

  • Fern

    Putting the unfair ranking aside, how is Knol any different than Blogger? Google is no more in the content business with Knol than they are with Blogger. Both are platforms for third parties to create content. Google isn’t generating its own content it is encouraging others to create content and then adding said content to its search engine.

    Knol is no more an encroachment on blogs than blogs are an encroachment on traditional websites. Is it fair that blogs often rank higher than more static websites merely because they update their content more frequently? Who knows. It’s just the way the game is played.

    Just remember, this too shall pass. In a few weeks all you smart problogger people will have figured out how to use Knol to your advantage and no one will even remember all this hullabaloo.

  • Nik

    Google have been doing that for quite a while with blogspot.com. For example, if you search for “I Should Be Writing” — Mur Laferty’s creative writing podcast — you’ll find that Google still ranks her abandoned (more than a year ago) Blogspot site over her active self-hosted WordPress blog.

    There definitely is a conflict of interest at hand and the Google folks should take care of before it spirals out of control and we move to another search engine.

  • Moise levi

    Quality brings traffic.

    Just focus on it ; everyday I hear of an newcomer that may destroy your blog’s ranking ……….

  • team ray

    the old saying goes big g can do whatever

  • Adam Pieniazek

    If Google is providing Knol and blogspot sites an added boost in search rankings, then I believe Google is acting illegally.

    A few years back Microsoft came under fire for bundling Internet Explorer with Windows and making it difficult to uninstall IE. The legal argument was that Microsoft had a near monopoly on the OS market and was using their monopoly to give another of their products a boost, thus hurting competition in two markets.

    Seems to me (I’m not a lawyer), that the same argument could be made here with Google, Knol, Youtube, blogger etc.

    If Google is using their (increasingly) near monopoly in the search engine market to give their other products in other industries a boost it seems to me they’re in violation of anti-trust regulations just like Microsoft before them.

  • Internet Business Ideas

    This is a very interesting post, and so are the comments.
    Google will dominate the web one day, and i don’t think there is much we can do about it.

    BTW, I made a test too and submitted one of my old articles to Knol and it wasn’t indexed (yet-24hrs).

    Tanny

  • Arun

    Evey one is concerned about whether google knol will put and end to blogging. I think it will not as google knol is just like wikipedia. One difference is that the topic we are discussing in our know cant be edited by others. But i think the google knol pages will be having a higher search engine position in with regard to google organic searches.

    http://www.simplewayoflife.net

  • Sell Porn Make Money

    it is a complete conflict of interest, but I will still try to exploit it.

  • Benjamin DiGregorio

    Do you guys seriously think Google will rank crappy knol pages better than pages that have worthwhile information?

    Seriously???

    This is the company that acquired 70% of the US market share by providing better and more relevant results than anyone else. I believe they understand that users can search wherever they choose, and I doubt they would undermine their sterling reputation for absolutely no potential benefit. What would they gain by ranking knol pages higher?

    I think we all agree that they would only lose market share…

  • Sherice

    I for one really like the idea of Knols – it’s Wikipedia without the policing of posts (which is good or bad depending on how you look at it). I think Knols will bring more collaboration and authority to people who have previously been behind-the-scenes.

  • Abdul

    One thing is for sure, Google is a search engine and people use it for searching proper things in their desired field. If, just say, each time when they put their keyword and have to bear knol, it will surely be boring for them and ultimately Google will loose its creditability.
    To me Google will be aware of it and will make some ranking system about their knols.
    Still I must say, Google should have gone for a separate domain rather making it a sub domain so it becomes in a competing environment.

  • Make Money Online Reports

    I don’t know. This may be a case where you just have to wait and see how things will be affected. As Benjamin said, it doesn’t seem as though Goog would be very wise to bite the hand that’s been feeding it.

    As for the quick high ranking of Knol pages, I’ve seen newly indexed pages I’ve put up grab top spots on the SERPs just because they’re new and seem to have relevant content. The trick will be to see for how long these pages (Knol pages) stay ranked that high.

  • David W. Beauchamp

    They are truly trying to enter ALL business…we keep hearing of all the “clones” of other tools/services they are planning on creating. It’s kind of scary!

  • ayman

    good work

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