Knol? I’d rather not.

December 14, 2007

I read recently that Google is planning what might be termed a rival to Wikipedia, called “Knol”. It will be for-profit, the money coming (of course) from advertising, and collaboration will not be a feature – each article is written by a single author. That’s what I can gather from what I’ve read.

My thoughts on this? Honestly, I don’t see the point. Who would want to use it?

It seems unlikely to attract many expert contributors – those types of people either want to be paid, in which case they won’t give away their services for free (or whatever compensation Google will offer – it doesn’t matter how much it is, there’s no way it can rival what the expert could get from an actual job, unless Google is planning to finance an entire encyclopedia), or they’ll want to actually give their knowledge away for free, in which case they’ll actually give it away for free, rather than put it into the hands of a vaguely ominous corporation that’s making money off of it.

But that is, supposedly, the main draw of Knol – unlike Wikipedia, which is open to all (though with many more quality controls than most people realize), it will be more authoritative. So if it won’t be, and if it will be cluttered by ads unlike Wikipedia, what’s the point?

The point, of course, is to make money. I don’t think Google will make money from this, but no one knows yet.

Now, allow me to rant about Google for a short time. Trust me, the above and the below are in fact related.

Part of what I find disturbing about Google is that all of its income comes from ads. How the hell can an ad-based economy support itself? It seems like almost every website supports itself just through advertisements. Often the people buying the advertisements are themselves supported through advertisements. How can this possibly be a long-term solution for any company? Eventually someone has to, you know, provide some service and charge money for it.

Obviously there are some sites that do so, but it isn’t like the internet has created any new ways of doing it – Amazon.com and eBay.com, and their derivatives, are the only online businesses that spring to mind, and both of those business models are not internet-specific – before people used Amazon, they bought books at a bookstore; before people used eBay, they went to garage sales. So how is it that the economy can now support hundreds of completely advertisement-based businesses when it couldn’t before?

I’ve never had an econ class, so I’m clearly not qualified to talk about this. But I’m allowed to be disturbed by it. It seems unnatural that businesses should be able to support themselves on ads. That’s just one of the reasons Google disturbs me.

And my fear is that Knol will be successful, and do damage to Wikipedia – but that eventually this ad-based economy will crumble around us and all of the ad-based services available online will crash and burn. Then the Free stuff like Wikipedia, which won’t be directly hurt, will be worse off than before because the ad-based stuff was competing with it.


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