With the announcement of Knol, Google displayed their desire to become a publisher. Why? To make free information more accessible. It doesn't hurt that publishers dominate other industries, like music - where in some cases giving artists nothing, while some artist get less than nothing, even if they made millions in sales.
While claiming Google will not make any editorial judgements of quality, and Google will treat Knols like any other web pages, Google's Udi Manber had this to say:
A knol on a particular topic is meant to be the first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read. The goal is for knols to cover all topics, from scientific concepts, to medical information, from geographical and historical, to entertainment, from product information, to how-to-fix-it instructions. Google will not serve as an editor in any way, and will not bless any content.
They desire it to be a starting point for searchers and yet they will not promote it?
Think back to the YouTube purchase. After Google bought the site, did they start blessing / featuring any YouTube content? Yes they did. Google's Uinversal Search integrated YouTube so tightly in their search results that now people add YouTube to the search query for many music searches . Don't believe me that they shifted user behavior? Try using Google Suggest for music searches and see where YouTube shows up.
Manber wrote not to worry about spam, as Google has that issue covered:
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.
Sure they will filter out some of the garbage people submit, but the good stuff will rank better than it should. I am not a betting man, but if I were I would bet that Knols get ranked right at the top, next to Youtube. As John Andrews describes it:
As TrustRank (the Google version, not the Yahoo! version) takes hold as the #1 or #2 ranking factor for SEO, this Knol thing steps in and bingo… who could be more trusted than Google itself?
How can Google come late to the game, offer no pay, desire to throw their ads on it right out of the gate, and expect to win marketshare UNLESS they rank this content better than it deserves to rank on merit? Put another way, what person who gets paid to create content is going to prefer putting it on Google Knol for free UNLESS Google gives Knol preferential treatment? If you are producing content out of passion with no profit motive, why would you put it on Google instead of your own server? If you desire peer review with your name attached to it why not publish it on YourName.com?
Offline media has always been biased and aggressively consolidated, it looks like the web is going to suffer the same fate, but worse, unless you are a Google stakeholder. Or, if Google gets too aggressive with this cross integration maybe they will hurt their relevancy enough that people search elsewhere.
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