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"Google Knols Best?" or should we say: "serfing" for Google?" yes "serfing" with an "e"

Google's latest business move to create "knols" should be sending shivers down the spine of any cognizant content publisher that cares about the future economics or growth of their online content. 

  • As Google explained in their blog announcement:
    • "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."
    • "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. [bold added] 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."

What does this new development mean?

First, I find it hysterical that Google, which is desperately trying to get people to believe and trust that Google's search algorithm is not influenced in any way by Google conflicts of interest, would use as its sample web page what appears to be a big publicity "plug" for Rachel Manber, the wife or family member of Udi Manber, the VP of engineering announcing the new product! 

  • Not the best way to build confidence that outside content will get "non-discriminatory" or unbiased treatment by Google or Google's search algorithm. 
  • Google obviously has a "tin ear" for conflicts of interest.

Second, this new Knol service is not only a big conflict of interest, but also a big "bait and switch" corporate move.

  • Why a conflict of interest? Remember what Google's Mr. Manber said in his blog, which I excerpted above: that the Knol is intended to be the first thing someone searches for on this topic will read.  
    • What this means is that Google will be hosting content, for which it intends for its search algorithm to rank as number one on that topic. Hmmm.
    • I wonder how Google could ensure that this Knol appears at the top of searches? Could they possibly tweak the algorithm to always favor Google's own hosted content that has Google's ads only?  
    • But wouldn't that be like the Yahoo model that Google has said it was different from?
  • Here's where the "bait and switch" occurred.
    • To develop 65% search share and accumulate about one million website publishers in the Google network, they led those publishers to believe that Google was a search wholesaler and not a retail website competitor to these same website publishers.
    • Would all of these publishers have joined the Google fold if they had known that Google had real designs to compete with them and siphon off their traffic to gain a greater share of online ad revenue in the future? We''ll never know.  
    • What's really insidious about this late in the game "bait and switch" is that with the Google-DoubleClick merger about to be approved by the FTC, these websites really will have little competitive choice to excercise if they don't like the new Google-Knol competitive conflict of interest. 
      • What Google knows is that most all of their publishers will simply have to bite their tongues and accept the new Google competition because they have no real alternative to Google's market power. 
  • What's so problematic about this late in the game switcheroo? Google is basically telling all the websites it "partners" with that Google will claim a search rank above them. In other words competitors rank will fall by one or more notches and Google will siphon off that top traffic directly to its website and its favored ads. 
    • Google is just eliminating the "middleman". Oops those middlemen are just Google's trusted business partners... so sorry... all's fair in love, war ... and market dominance.
    • What's also troublesome is that there is near zero transparency or accountability with Google or its search engine to check if Google is "self-dealing" at the expense of a business partner. One can't prove what one can't see...  Ignorance is bliss in online advertising. 

Third, if there is to be one expert on the topic that most people are directed to read by Google, how do we know if people will get both sides of an issue?

  • Will Google rank the views of its allies like on net neutrality high, while ranking those that oppose its position very low?
    • How will the Knol project be kept unbiased in reality?
  • Won't it just rank the most "bombed" knol first, just like the Youtube debate questions for the Republican Presidential debate were rigged and skewed to the Democratic point of view?
    • Are people to expect that the CNN-Youtube question debacle is the precedent for how these Knol rankings will be produced in the future or will their be a more unbiased mechanism to get both sides of view?

Fourth, so why did I use the word "serfing" for Google? in the title? 

  • Most people '"surf" the net using Google to find what they want. 
  • Under Google's new Knol program, most of the publishers will be toiling away for Google like "serfs" did in feudal times. 
    • To put Google's Knol product in historical context, Knol is like telling serfs living and tilling their fields outside the walls of Google, i.e. outside the Google-hosted cloud, that they won't get as much water to grow their crops unless they come inside the feudal lord's walls (the Google cloud) and work on the feudal lord's property which will get preference for ~65% of all of the water available. 
    • The Google "serf' publisher will have the unpleasant "choice" of publishing on their own outside the Google cloud where they will get less traffic than they did before or come inside and publish on a Google-hosted web-page in order to get as much traffic as they did before. 

This development is one of the many reasons I have been so passionate about warning of the dangers of allowing Google so much market power in the Double-Click transaction

  • The problem is right beneath the FTC and EC's nose and staring web publishers right in the face. 
  • It will be interesting to see how long they continue in their "ostriching" that there's a really big problem brewing here with the global content/online advertising economy...