Like many other technologists, I’ve been following the launch of Google Knol closely and finally had a chance this evening to create a couple of entries. As someone in the knowledge and intelligence business I’m having a hard time seeing the value in the product thus far. A couple of immediate reactions.
1) As Jason Calacanis has been pointing out, this squarely puts Google in the publishing business which will make a lot of people uncomfortable. If your business is driven by producing content based on a specific expertise or business and then monetizing traffic based on that expertise, Knol promises to have an impact on your livelihood. This could have a negative backlash within the Adsense community as some publishers will see Knol as a direct competitor being funded by the margins on clickthroughs from their sites.
I think Knol will be hard for the Internet community to embrace. For example, a search for Barack Obama and here is what you get:
With millions of people out there blogging about Obama, not a single one has bother to write a Knol about the guy? I’d say that represents a hesitancy to buy into the concept. It could also mean that the Knol search engine doesn’t work, which would surprising given its parent. However, I can tell you that Knols I wrote are not showing up in Knol’s own search results yet so there could be some deeper underlying issue.
2) What value does Knol bring above and beyond what we already have available to us with other blogging and HTML platforms. In 1996, having and interest and some authority on terrorism issues we launched www.terrorism.com and in 2000, a companion site www.homelandsecurity.com. If someone has a niche interest or expertise they are better off creating something unique that will build in value over time. Launch a website or a blog and make your content dynamic and showcase your expertise on your topics of interest. If you want to contribute to the general body of knowledge contribute to Wikipedia or Mahalo articles.
My friend and former CTO of the Defense Intelligence Agency looked at Knol and has similar reactions:
“So far, I have to admit, I am not impressed. How could this be of more value than the list I already maintain?” (CTO Vision)
I think Bob has a point. It has no value other than being hosted on Google will give it favorable page rank which brings us back to point 1.
3) Lack of centralization will eventually diminish the value of Knol. Right now, anyone can create any page on Knol, even if a page for that topic already exists. That means we might see dozens of pages on one topic within Knol and no consolidation that provides any real “wisdom of crowds” or “guided expert” value. It also makes it harder for users to find what they want. What we need is more focus, not decentralization within initiatives like this. For example, at Mahalo I know I will only ever find one page on “terrorism” and that page represents the best that Mahalo expert guides and the community have to offer. Within Knol, I might have to go through dozens of pages and extract tidbits of value from each one. You’ll also have Knol’s competing against each other for popularity which means we will start seeing political and ideologically competing Knols. Imagine search result pages clogged with pages of competing Knols. You won’t have units of knowledge, you’ll have units of opinion. Isn’t that what blogs are for?
With competing Knols, the intellectual value of the content will diminish and authoritative will risk being replaced by popular (they have a star rating system after all).
4) Is Knol Squidoo by another name? Getting paid for content you produce is not a bad thing, but introduces additional complexity into the system that I think Knol would be better off without.
Obviously, I am not sold on the concept and think there are some significant issues. What do you think? Leave your reaction in comments and tell me what I’ve got wrong.