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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Criticism of Google’s Knol Project

Anil Dash, blogger and Six Apart employee, argues that Google has fundamental problems with creating good editing tools because they can’t really put themselves in the mind of the end user. As for the recently announced Google Knol project, Anil says that just like with Google Page Creator, Blogger, Google Notebook, JotSpot, Google Docs and other tools, “Google has not proven that it understands content creation and publishing as well as it understands its core businesses of search and advertising.” In response, Jason Goldman, who worked at Google and is now at Twitter, says:

The screenshot [of Knol] shows something kinda like a Wikipedia article except it has ads by Google, peer reviews and prominent author attribution.

On the first point, a big reason this is happening is because of the amount of unmonetizable traffic Google sends to Wikipedia. ... And Wikipedia won’t accept advertising. Let’s build Knol.

The further justification for Knol is “Who can trust all that crap on Wikipeda?” Google is fundamentally an academic institution and part of that ethos is that things aren’t really “good” unless peer reviewed. The concept of peer review is central to how work is done inside Google and that basically works as far as it goes. Unfortunately, that ethos has extended to the way Google views content on the web. Sergey once asked the Blogger team how Blogger was going to compete with the New York Times. Even though our pageviews exceeded those of the NYT, the point I think he was making was “When are you gonna produce something authoritative that lots of people will accept as good.” Blogger’s answer was “Huh?” Knol’s answer is peer review.

Jason adds, “The fact that the [Knol] article in the released screenshot was authored by a Stanford University academic is basically all you need to know about how Google views content on the web. It doesn’t count as knowledge until it’s given to you by an expert.”

Then again, PageRank too came about partly due to this ethos of accepting peer reviews as quality measurement; instead of counting article citations, back in the 1990s Google went about to count backlinks to measure the credibility of an article. Then again (again), PageRank was based on the open structure of the web, analyzing external data. This time, Google is shifting the model to its own servers by hosting all Knol data, along with the peer reviews & ratings for that data.

In related news, I recently emailed the domain owner of, Hilco Knol, to ask if Google contacted him in regards to acquiring the domain. The site of this Dutch cleaning devices seller gained quite some traffic recently and chose to thank “Google”, “040 Hosting” and “TechCrunch,” among others, on their homepage. Interestingly enough, Hilco told me the following:

Till now have google don’t take contact with us we are positif suprised for using the name KNOL because it is my own name.

We want to launch our own products what you can see on our Internet site.

For the rest we see whats happening.

[Thanks Anil!]


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