Google Wants to Know Everything

Dennis Faas's picture

Google is launching an ambitious project to become the Internet's leading source of information on just about every subject. Their plans appear to be a direct attack on Wikipedia's popularity.

According to a blog by Google's Vice President of engineering, the company wants to make it easier for experts to share knowledge. They plan to do this through a project titled 'knol' (a term they are also using to refer to each entry). The idea is for Google to take care of the hosting and formatting, leaving the experts to concentrate on the information. The goal is for the 'knol' to be "the first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read."

Google is stressing that they will not take any editorial responsibility for the content and say readers will be able to comment, add extra information, or 'edit'. It's not yet clear if this will involve readers being able to change the content themselves (as with Wikipedia) or merely suggest changes.

The biggest difference from Wikipedia is that 'knol' authors will be able to choose whether or not to allow adverts on the page. If they do, they will receive a 'substantial revenue share' from those ads. That raises the possibility that some authors will deliberately write controversial topics to attract attention and boost revenue. (Source:

Larry Sanger, a co-founder of Wikipedia who now runs his own rival site Citizendium, says Google's plan seems unlikely to work. He feels true experts will not be willing to put their efforts into a project where their research is open to review by the general public rather than other experts in their field. (Source:

Wikipedia welcomed the project, but appeared to imply Google might place restrictions on the content. "The more free content, the better for the world," a spokeswoman wrote. "Free content is about freedom -- the freedom for anyone to use, study and apply, change and redistribute the work, for any purpose." (Source:

Most Google projects to date -- such as image searches, news and book searching -- have been successful. But the trend in recent years has been that once a site becomes established as the market leader in its niche (such as Amazon for book sales or Google itself for searching), it becomes very hard for new competitors to change people's habits. If Wikipedia is as established in Internet culture as many believe, Google could be in for a tough fight.

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