Google’s Biggest Move in Years: Adding Authority to Content


(Example of a Knol)

What normally causes a rage or a riot in the tech blogosphere flitters out to meaning little to nothing for the “average” web user in general or is tested and evolved before being adopted by web users outside of the Techmeme echo chamber. Interestingly enough, the things that seem to slip by most tech bloggers sometime come back to surprise us all with their impacts or ramifications for the web environment.

That might be the case with Google’s latest experiment called “Knol” (for a unit of knowledge). Google says they are attempting to get people to contribute knowledge to the web with a layer of authorial addition:

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. We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of web content. At the heart, a knol is just a web page; we use the word “knol” as the name of the project and as an instance of an article interchangeably. It is well-organized, nicely presented, and has a distinct look and feel, but it is still just a web page. Google will provide easy-to-use tools for writing, editing, and so on, and it will provide free hosting of the content. Writers only need to write; we’ll do the rest.

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. 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. 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.

It’s no wonder that Google is getting into the knowledge production business. And at this point, it is a business. Whereas Wikipedia has rapidly become the repository of information for those seeking deeper knowledge of a subject or topic than a query on a search engine (such as Google) can provide, Wikipedia still relies on donations and is run as a nonprofit.

Google sees the opportunity to provide a better product while also serving their famous contextual ads on top of the content and increasing their revenues (with what would certainly be highly targeted audiences). Blending authoritative information with relevant advertising equals money. And lots of it. Not only will knols rank high in the search engines, they will go hand-in-hand with Google’s search results to form a platform of trust and that spells conversions.

Google has learned well from both the under monetized Wikipedia and the over-spammed Squidoo in this endeavor. And while the announcement of the knol program went by fairly quietly in the tech world, this could be Google’s biggest move in years (up there with acquiring YouTube).

I expect we’ll be seeing more and more about knols as people realize the potential impact on the average web user.

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