December 14, 2007

Argumentum ad Verecundiam

Knol is what will be referred to as Google's Wikipedia-killer. As usual, Anil has already written the really smart, thought-out critique that I was never gonna be able to produce in the first place. So go read that.

The screenshot that accompanied the announcement is a very telling illustration of Anil's central point. Specifically that "An awareness of the fact that Google has never displayed an ability to create the best tools for sharing knowledge would reveal that it is hubris for Google to think they should be a definitive source for hosting that knowledge."

Turns out Google's really good at hubris.

The screenshot 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. Guess what the "I'm feeling Lucky" hit is for the title of this post. 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.

Well, part of the answer is peer review. The other part is "get the smart people to write the articles." The fact that the 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. Preferably an expert who went to Stanford (who misspells 'United States' - zing!).

In conclusion of his post, Anil refers back to a post he made in 2003 titled Google's First Mistake. I didn't understand that older post at the time it was written, but it kinda made me mad. Today, the announcement of Knol reminds me that I'm still a little mad. But for different reasons.


anil said...

For what it's worth, I felt bad almost immediately after posting "Google's First Mistake" all those years ago, because I felt like I'd spit in the punchbowl at a time when a lot of people deserved to be enjoying a well-earned party. Of course, that was back when I *would* just post what I thought as soon as I thought it, without thinking about the real people on the other end of it.

I still regret naming names about different tech stuff having to do with Blogger -- I just plain didn't know what I was talking about with that stuff back then, and have since learned quite vividly how that stuff actually works. :)

But the central point about Google moving from discovery to creation still rubs me the wrong way. And I think part it wasn't just "hey, what about the non-Google sites?" but also "hey, this project has to, by nature, be a second-class citizen within Google". It's stupid both coming and going.

I could be wrong; I half was before. Hell, I hope I am. But knol doesn't sing of a winner, and it's certainly not something that redefines how we work like Search or Gmail did. Or, you know, like Blogger did.

workinclasszero said...

I found it unsettling to know that blogosphere was used in 2003.

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