Google Takes Aim at Wikipedia, Is Now Officially a Media Company

This one really blows me away. Everyone has noticed recently (over the past few years and in particular lately) how dominant Wikipedia is in Google results. Well, I guess Google's noticed too, and decided it wants to own the second click, as well as the first. From the Times…

This one really blows me away. Everyone has noticed recently (over the past few years and in particular lately) how dominant Wikipedia is in Google results.

Well, I guess Google’s noticed too, and decided it wants to own the second click, as well as the first. From the Times UK piece:

Google is launching a rival to Wikipedia, the world’s most popular online reference work.

The new user-generated Google website, dubbed “knol”, will be free to read and will invite “people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it”, Udi Manber, a Google engineer, said on an official company blog.

From the official blog post announcing know (“unit of knowledge”), written by Udi Manber, a fellow I have a lot of respect for (see my interview with him here):

Our goal is to encourage people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it. The tool is still in development and this is just the first phase of testing. For now, using it is by invitation only. But we wanted to share with everyone the basic premises and goals behind this project.

The key idea behind the knol project is to highlight authors. Books have authors’ names right on the cover, news articles have bylines, scientific articles always have authors — but somehow the web evolved without a strong standard to keep authors names highlighted.

ER, HELLO!? This is a direct response to Wikipedia, where the articles are written by a committee process with no attribution, and the main complaint is lack of authority or opaque bias. Wow. I guess that’s how Google plans to compete.

What do you all think? Will it start to beat Wikipedia in organic listings? Or will it matter, as Google can simply one box it, like Yahoo does its owned and operated properties, and push folks to the pages where the margins are better for Google? The post addresses this:

At the discretion of the author, a knol may include ads. If an author chooses to include ads, Google will provide the author with substantial revenue share from the proceeds of those ads.

Question: Please define “substantial”?

And what about editing and community and such?

“Google will not serve as an editor in any way, and will not bless any content. All editorial responsibilities and control will rest with the authors. We hope that knols will include the opinions and points of view of the authors who will put their reputation on the line. Anyone will be free to write. For many topics, there will likely be competing knols on the same subject. Competition of ideas is a good thing.

Knols will include strong community tools. People will be able to submit comments, questions, edits, additional content, and so on. Anyone will be able to rate a knol or write a review of it. Knols will also include references and links to additional information.”

Huh. And what about ranking, how will knols rank compared to say, well, Wikipedia articles?

Our job in Search Quality will be to rank the knols appropriately when they appear in Google search results. We are quite experienced with ranking web pages, and we feel confident that we will be up to the challenge. We are very excited by the potential to substantially increase the dissemination of knowledge.

We do not want to build a walled garden of content; we want to disseminate it as widely as possible. Google will not ask for any exclusivity on any of this content and will make that content available to any other search engine.

Wait a minute! You mean it won’t just be the magic Google black box that ranks them? You mean HUMANS are going to get involved here?


That’s all I can say. Wow. (Head is shaking….firing off email to Udi!)

23 thoughts on “Google Takes Aim at Wikipedia, Is Now Officially a Media Company”

  1. Not exactly like Wikipedia as Wikipedia allows numerous editors per page or topic.
    Google says there will be competing pages on topics.
    Definitely a shot at the traffic Wikipedia attracts.
    Wikipedia users won’t necessarily be swayed however, the (younger) users I know don’t get to Wikipedia through Google. They start at Wikipedia.

  2. Hi John, while I welcome the initiative, I already know it won’t answer any of the questions that really matter. It will be yet another great source of information, structured, probably written by people that are experts. But as will almost anything on the web, there will be too much of it. And pretty soon we need the Google Search engine and pageranking system to find anything on KNOL.

    I have found a much easier and better way to get answers to the questions that really matter. I use Google to find the address and phone number of a vet I rarely visit. But if I want to know more about something that really matters to me, I always turn to people. Friends, family, colleagues from work, people I know from the web, or my blog. Anyone. There are 2 reasons why I always get better results there.

    1. I trust the judgement of people I know or have interacted with before. Not only because they are knowledgeable, but also because they know me!
    2. Finding information is good, interacting with someone about it is better.

    KNOL will be great for some in-depth information (just like Wikipedia), but in the end, I rely on people for things that really matter.

  3. It’s so true that Google has been playing this game for a while now. The party is over, Google. You guys run a very large MEDIA company that happens to have great technology. Warning to all traditional media companies: stop working with Google. They’re not your friends and will never have your best interest at heart. You will always LOSE in the partnership — always.

  4. Interesting news, John.

    Actually, though, it sounds like the model is more like (fyi: I happen to be a resident expert there).

    The similarities between Knol and are striking.

    At you can write articles on any business-related topic and publish them. Popular topics often have several articles written about them and in effect the articles compete (or focus on some narrow aspect of a broad topic). The articles are required to follow a certain general format and point to external links and resources other than the author’s own sites. also allows readers to rate the articles, comment, and augment the articles by pointing to additional resources — some of the very things the Google announcement refers to.

    The only thing you can’t do on is edit someone else’s article per se. But by leaving comments and pointing to other resources, in effect you can impact and “change” the article.

    Small business owners use to establish themselves as “published” experts on particular topics. Think of it as an updated alternative to the ezine article submission sites (most of which have become spammy by now).

    Business owners also use it as a resource to find information. As you might expect, some articles are better than others, but I will say that there are some outstanding articles on that I have found extremely helpful, especially on highly current topics or extremely narrow niche topics that not much is written about elsewhere.


  5. >>> But if I want to know more about something that really matters to me, I always turn to people. Friends, family, colleagues from work, people I know from the web, or my blog. Anyone.

    Clearly, facebook needs to get in on this: Wikipedia should add a beacon, so that any time you look something up, your colleagues are kept up to date with your ignorance.

    People are not going to move away from Wikipedia, but neither are they going to move away from Google. If I want quick information on a topic, I will go straight to Wikipedia or get a wikislice.

  6. This is an attempt of Google to bring the “hidden internet” to light, which is just information behind firewalls and such, like corporate intelligence.

    All such information is, at the end, done by individuals, and Knols are a perfect easy way to disperse that info online.

    I second the notion that “substantial revenue share” should be elaborated by Google.

  7. What a dumb idea. Why doesn’t Google go after Digg, or how about hiring reporters and go after Rupert Murdoch?

    This stinks of having too much money and too much talent with nothing to do. If Google wants people post click traffic, I guess they’ll soon start offering GoogWeather, GoogSports, GoogNews, and keep all the traffic instead of being the source to FIND things online.

    Wow, the Internet will be so interesting in an all Goog world.

    I can’t wait until advertisers realize that half their AdWords budget goes to people that were going to find them anyway and AdSense display ads appear on thousands of crappy websites (why do you think Goog is slow to be transparent – the network of sites sucks!) When marketers wake up, Google can kiss half that search revenue and a big part of that market cap good bye.

  8. I’ve got to agree with most of the other responses — Knol is DOA if it is meant to compete with Wikipedia. Wikipedia delivers good enough quality with good enough policing. Knol will likely be prone to quality degradation as others have noted, as well as ad pollution.

    And even where author-driven approaches make sense (with peer review/editorial controls counteracting some of the quality issues), from what I understand so far Knol looks obsolete on arrival. As was mentioned above, existing sites can already deliver these content functions. And more. For example, in our business thought leadership site,, we basically deliver: Knol + Facebook + AI, and we deliver it now. In other words, from now on, if it’s not Wikipedia, it better be advanced content management PLUS advanced social networking PLUS highly intelligent and personalized recommendations of both content and people, or forget about it . . .

  9. It is not a bad idea completely, but not good for Google to do, for a number of reasons. One, others are already basically doing it, so it seems like a copy cat. Two, they are already walking a fine line by claiming to have clean search results on the left, yet I only show Youtube and Google Videos — even when not searching for videos. Youtube may not be paying them, but it sure seems money influences the results.

    It seems odd why they would feel the need to say the line you quote above about making sure Knol pages will show up on searches. Don’t they display all pages no matter where they are published equally based on their algorthym? This implies that they will make extra effort for the knol pages, but not for others. If so, this is a major shift and i need to find a new search tool.

  10. Our job in Search Quality will be to rank the knols appropriately when they appear in Google search results. We are quite experienced with ranking web pages, and we feel confident that we will be up to the challenge. We are very excited by the potential to substantially increase the dissemination of knowledge.

    John: Wait a minute! You mean it won’t just be the magic Google black box that ranks them? You mean HUMANS are going to get involved here?

    John, what black box? There is no such thing. Information retrieval has always had a human element, since retrieval quality is based on human judgment.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that the distinction between “pure” algorithmic search and human-based search is becoming less and less useful. Over the last few years, search engines have started optimizing for more and more specific query types, retrieval tasks, and page types. Once you go down that road, you have to ask at some point how pages of type X should be rated compared to other pages. Here, X might mean blog, wikipedia page, product description, entry in social networks, or many others. If we assume that knol pages are a new type of page, then it makes sense to ask how they should be ranked compared to other pages. Nothing wrong or new about that.

    Note: I am not saying there is no potential for mischief here. If ranking is performed not based on the type of the page, but the corporate ownership of the page, that would be different. But the quote you give does not indicate this.
    That said, I am not too impressed with the idea, and am skeptical about it prospects.

    Anyway, I suggest that looking at such things mainly the human/no human perspective will be increasingly less insightful. It was useful in the past for the major engines to deflect criticism about rankings, and is also used by recent startups in the “human-based search” area to try to distinguish themselves from the established players, but a lot of this is besides the point.

  11. Google Builds Its Own AdSense Traps!

    John, you missed the right headline. Cloked in lofty language like “experts” and “articles”, etc. Udi Manbar, failed CEO of A9, tried to put a happy face on things. But, for anyone that knows Udi, that seems implausible at best.

    Google is a media company. They produce content. They care a lot about ads. They continue to play PR games with the media companies — go figure!

  12. I predict this will be nothing more than yet another lame property to feature within Google results (but I know nothing about it, which is probably adequate since it probably is more/less starting off with nothing — still: I think it will probably also end up as nothing, but it may very well become a “top result” on… 😉

  13. I don’t think that they will be able to compete with Wikipedia on this one. The main reason being, like Google, Wikipedia is now part of the ‘Internet dictionary’. By that I mean, searching is ‘to Google’ and finding out something authoritative on a subject is ‘to Wikipedia’. Ok, well not quite, but certainly it’s entered the psyche of most internet users as a destination resource. Changing that in the users minds is going to be be very hard, no matter how much money Google has.

  14. Google Knol appears to be a one big tool, aggregating the features of Wikipedia, Blogger and Yahoo Answers. The basic concept of having content on every topic and the editing capabilities are similar to that of Wikipedia. The idea of providing identity for the authors and enabling advertisements are analogous to that of Blogger. Yahoo Answers’ ability to ask questions, provide answers and rate those answers are also embedded in Knol.

    Related post on my blog

  15. I think this is a great idea to replace the undependable, often wrong, and confusing wikipedia info. Most of the info is very biased and judged by wikipeida people who are neither qualified nor knowledgable to judge.

    Various experts and varying views by experts is what appeals to me.

    dr s dhillon

  16. Please yes Google, kill Wikipedia. For those who haven’t ever tried to participate in Wikipedia, here is the sociology of it in a nutshell.

    People work hard to edit an article. A long term denizen of Wikipedia- a “wikignome” – comes along, tears it down and deletes it, citing something like “non notable subject matter”.

    A battle ensues between the parties. The long term denizens, the “gnomes” use everything but rational debate: their superior knowledge of the processes involved in “adjudication of conflict” in wikipedia, their long standing friendships with judges, or “admins”, their willingness to spend hours on end doggedly pursuing the would-be contributer in what passes for litigation in wikipedia, in order to have their way.

    End of article.

    If the editor persists, it’s end of editor, or “banning”.

    This has happened with such frequency to what later embarrassingly turned out to be real world experts, that scholars and people of sober intent stopped taking Wikipedia seriously years ago. It generally cannot be cited in journals, newspaper articles or even schoolwork.

    Essentially, Wikipedia is run like a third world dictatorship where the well connected – those who have been there a long time- support each other for “advancement” to “admin” status ( or judges in disputes, with the power to ban other users – real power in Wikipedia ). Admin is achieved by making a certain number of edits and then being voted on (at which time chits are called in ).

    Think of a Survivor season in which all the participants are members of Congress. Yeah, it’s like that.

    The rules, a depressing number of which are concerned with “dispute resolution”, are well-meaning and a processes of sorts in place. But these are enforced by none other than the admins, who generally will not contradict each other as a matter of professional courtesy.

    It’s like a kleptocracy, except there’s nothing to be klept- it’s just about power, forming alliances, fighting battles and “being” someone in the micro-world of wikipedians. Looked at in this way, the joys are essentially the same as those of role playing – with the same type of personality involved- except your field of play is Wikipedia- the Online Encyclopedia Everyone Can Edit !

    Woo Hoo!

    Wikipedia is the purest expression of what is created when there is no centralized control whatsoever. It’s populated by an rankest assortment of alliance-forming, purpose-perverting, rule-twisting, power-seeking and just plain defective personalities as you’re likely to find on the web.

    Serious contributers are of course repelled by this atmosphere which they find unfathomable, and quickly leave.

    The basic flaw here is giving the power to delete someone else’s work to just anyone. People who crave power of any stripe, and especially the power to frustrate others, are drawn to this. The attraction is amplified by the cache of being able to think of oneself as an encyclopedia editor in charge of one of the “most important undertakings mankind has ever launched” as Wikipedia’s founder Jimmy Wales once characterized it.

    As an encyclopedia, it’s a pathetic failure bristling with inaccuracies, mind-boggling misrepresentations and horrendous untruths. As a sociological experiment, it’s an object lesson in what not to do.

    Google learned that basic lesson- let people of goodwill contribute and thank them graciously by not deleting their work, at least.

    And that’s how we can all just get along.

  17. Daes : Interesting insight. To this, I should add that Wikipedia is interested in finding the truth whereas Google is more concerned about getting as much (genuine) content as possible.

    Whether this content reflects reality or not is not Google’s problem. Google vs Wikipedia is a fight between Folksonomy vs Taxonomy.

    Websites which get the most clicks usually end up at the top of SERPs because Google considers them as being “relevant”, regardless as whether they are actually relevant. People get to define what is “relevant” or not through Google’s algorithm

    Whereas Wikipedia’s editors define relevancy, Google rely mostly on computers to do that job, which is not only faster but also more objective. A bit like doing things right rather than doing the right things.

  18. What you described is Wikipedia as it’s advertised to the unassuming public- it’s PR claims. That Wikipedia does not exist, so the defense of that non-existing entity and its comparison with Google- which is, anyway, misguided for reasons cited below- is moot.

    Donna Bogatin, in writing for ZDnet goes into this in some detail. In this article on Wikipedia,

    she quotes Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger at some length.

    Donna writes:

    “Sanger describes an ineffective and abusive “amateur” Wikipedia community:

    ‘The community does not enforce its own rules effectively or consistently. Consequently, administrators and ordinary participants alike are able essentially to act abusively with impunity, which begets a never-ending cycle of abuse.’

    Michael Arrington has publicly admitted fears of intimidation by Wikipedians has dissuaded him from attempting to correct errors in Wikipedia’s TechCrunch entry:

    ‘ While wikipedia appears to be open to all, I’ve seen numerous examples of changes getting immediately deleted for what appears to be political reasons rather than the pursuit of pure knowledge. And I’ve also seen people be attacked for making changes that appear to be factual and correct.’

    So the problem is not just the massive falsehoods which PO normally benign beings like Terry Gross of Fresh Air:

    it’s the incestuous nature of the editors

    who maintain secret mailing lists designed to facilitate truth search-and-destroy missions:

    Regarding the comparison with Google’s, Google is attempting, and with very good results generally, to find websites that are “about” a topic. That is a different goal from discerning the “truth” about something, or even bringing back websites that know “the truth” about any particular subject. Your point that Google doesn’t do the later is not an argument against Google, since none of its users expect that it does to begin with.

    Google’s new venture, which is the subject of this blog entry, stands a good chance at getting user’s connected to high-quality information on a topic basis. That is because of the way it’s structured. It’s not liable to turn into, well, an open running sewer of provincial power players, and fiefdoms run by no-real-life gamers and just plain liars :

    who ensure that the entry for Middle Earth is larger and more “factual” than the entry for central Africa:

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