For those still unaware, Google is introducing Knol, a tool that allows people to create articles about distinct subject areas and post them on specialised, Google hosted pages. The difference between Knol and Wikipedia is that while Wikipedia relies on the mass knowledge of “the crowd” to author articles, Knol articles will be authored by individuals who both own the page they write, and who share in the revenue derived from that page. Thus far it all sounds good….
However – Google owns web search (or 69% of it anyway) and has the ability, now that they will co-own content, to drive traffic to that content by altering page rankings for competitors. Knol could indeed mean the death of Wikipedia. This is the very sort of thing that gets market comptition authorities worldwide dribbling with expectation of court cases.
Why is Knol such big news? Because we’re seeing a move from Google being the (at least in appearance) neutral platform provider, simply indexing the content of others, to Google becoming both the owner of content, and the service that guides people to that content. Bob at Smoothspan is entirely correct when he says that platform vendors have to be Switzerland, that is neutral providers whose function is to provide a home to others. As soon as they start to compete with the providers who sit on top of their platform, bad things are liable to happen.
I’ve been doing a lot of talking recently about networks – be they special interest vertical ones or large horizontal demographic ones. In either case the rules are the same, the platform has to appear, act and develop as a neutral player. It’ll be interesting to see where Google go with Knol and whether they take steps to ameliorate any non-neutral taint that might come with their actions.