Google Knol is evil

posted 28 July 2008, updated 29 July 2008

So last week Google launched Google Knol, which TechCrunch described as a monetizable Wikipedia. That's a pretty good description. Unlike Wikipedia, each page has exactly one author, and multiple authors can create competing Knols on the same topic -- so Knols are based on competition, rather than cooperation, as Wikipedia is.

But Knol is really something more profound and a lot more worrying. It became clear quite quickly that Knol has ridiculous levels of PageRank, the Google juice that gets you listed first in searches. Within a few days of launch, a page created on Knol took just hours to out-rank a long-standing page that Google itself declared to be identical, from a highly-ranked, long-existing domain. PageRank isn't supposed to work that way, and it doesn't work that way for anybody else.

Jason Calcanis (of Wikipedia/Knol competitor Mahalo) put it excellently today when he said that Google is becoming a content company:

I've always seen Google as the modern day operating system, and our job to work within their framework. ... Their operating system is search results, and About.com, HowThingsWork.com, digg.com, NYTimes.com, Engadget.com, etc. are all applications in that operating system. Our job is to create the best possible products that operate -- aka rank -- as well as possible with Google's OS.

That's an excellent analogy, and a telling one. Knol is a content application in the Internet operating system created and owned by Google. When the company that controls the operating system creates an application, and favours its own application over identical applications by other companies... well, it sounds a lot like abuse of power. More dangerously, when the maker of that operating system has massive 68% market share and growing, it becomes abuse of monopoly. It also sounds pretty startlingly similar to another antitrust case I remember.

The rapidly growing consensus amongst content creators is that Knol is a step too far. The company whose mission is to "organize the world's information" is straying into "monetizing the world's information", and in the process they are damaging competitors who were doing it better (Wikipedia) or at least just as well (Mahalo).

A little over a year ago, when Google bought DoubleClick, I said:

...now the corner has been turned, and a move that makes more money despite annoying and hassling end-users has been deemed Googly. Any number of dirty tricks -- and with market power like Google's, there are a lot of dirty tricks it can pull -- are now fair game. This will, inevitably, lead to them doing something to improve Google's bottom line at the expense of your Internet experience. Goodbye, non-evil Google. It was nice knowing you.

And now you have it: Google is stealing traffic from other websites with identical or better information, and making money from the theft. There's no way to wriggle out of it: Google, this is evil. Stop.


Update: Mashable have very similar thoughts about Knol. Also: welcome, Hacker News!
Update 2: Somebody has submitted this to Digg, so you can Digg this story if you like.
Update 3: A friend suggested that in the interests of full disclosure, I make clear for new visitors that I work for Yahoo. I genuinely feel that I didn't let that color my judgement here, but it's definitely worth mentioning. And obviously this is just my opinion and not my employer's.
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