Is Google going after Wikipedia?

by Mathew on December 14, 2007 · 15 comments

Via a Twitter post from MG Siegler at ParisLemon, I just came across a post on the Google Blog about a project the search giant is calling Knol, which stands for “a unit of knowledge,” apparently (who comes up with these goofy names?). I have to agree with the Lemon that this is potentially huge. What Google is describing sounds a lot like an expert version of Wikipedia, or essentially what estranged Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger has been trying to create in Citizendium: in other words, a more reliable Wikipedia, created and moderated by experts.

There’s a screenshot of what a Knol would look like on a topic such as insomnia, and it includes all the information that someone coming to a topic would want to know, according to Google — in other words, pretty much the same stuff that Wikipedia (or Squidoo or Mahalo) would have in an article about the same topic. The only difference that I can see is that Wikipedia entries seem to have more links.

One of the biggest differences, as MG Siegler notes, is that the authors of the articles are featured, with photos and a profile page. In addition to the ability to comment on the article — and apparently adding information Wikipedia-style, according to the Google blog post — readers can see other articles written by the same writer, and the articles have a star rating that refers to “peer” reviews, which are also visible in the sidebar.

I think this could be huge. A more authoritative version of Wikipedia, compiled by experts and powered by Google? Not only that, but as Paul Kedrosky points out, the pages come with Google ads, and authors get a revenue share — he says (and I agree) that it could hurt not just Wikipedia but Mahalo and plenty of others, especially if those pages start to rank highly in Google searches. Like I said — huge.

  • MG Siegler

    Yes, this story is going to explode over the next few days I think. I like how Google seemed to make their official post unnecessarily wordy so as to maybe mask their full intentions. You'll also notice they mention Wikipedia exactly 0 times!

    One note: while Google is working with “experts” at first, it seems like anyone will be able to make a page once they open it up. However with their various rating systems in place, no doubt the “expert” pages will float to the top.

    And yes, the monetization factor is huge. Imagine how much money Wikipedia would make with just one ad – you can bet Google, which refers millions of visitors to that site, knows full well – and if they recreate a Wikipedia, with the twist of authority and monetization – that they can feature in their own results, they're looking at another huge pool sea of money.

  • digidave

    I've been waiting for the pro-am approach to wikipedia for a long time. Citizendium is close – but doesn't have the critical mass. If anybody could pull it off, it would be Google.

  • David Gerard

    Speaking as a Wikipedia editor – we're not actually all about running a hugely expensive website with no ads, and calling Wikipedia “reliant” on Google is a complete misunderstanding of why we do this. It's about creating a resource for the future which anyone can take and reuse freely, not just making a cool website today.

    It looks like they're bending over backwards not to make this actually freely reusable content. Which, y'know, they could easily do (all editors agree to release their work under GFDL or CC-by-sa or something). So that immediately makes it less interesting to Wikipedia in terms of what we're actually doing. This immediately places Knol with and Scholarpedia. I wonder precisely what rights over other people's work they're going to try to claim.

    If the quality of the work is good, we'd probably use it for references, like we do

  • David Gerard

    Looks like I was dead wrong about their licence – the PNG example ( shows a CC-by-3.0 tag.

    As far as I'm concerned that's a BIG WIN for Wikipedia and what we do – making free content *normal and expected*. If they require contributions to be under a proper free content licence, then I'm a BIG FAN of this endeavour. Same reason Citizendium succeeding would be a big win for what we do – it's not competition, it's expanding the pool of unencumbered knowledge.

  • mathewi

    I agree, Dave.

  • mathewi

    Thanks for the comment, David — it's good to get the viewpoint of
    someone who works with Wikipedia. And I agree that this seems a
    little bit like 2.0, but with Google in the driver's seat.
    If nothing else, it's going to be interesting to watch.

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  • Charlie

    I think it will actually complement Wikipedia. Finding high quality, peer-reviewed articles on the web to support Wikipedia articles is currently really hard. If they become a success, knols could become an invaluable reference for Wikipedia articles.

  • hugh

    one problem is that google is entering into the conflict of interest – as a search engine – that they previously shunned, and helped them become the kings of search.

    other engines showed you what they wanted to show you; google showed you what you wanted to find.

    as google becomes a content producer, they will, surely, game their search results in their own favour. there's no indication of how they will deal with this yet.

    anyway, that's bad for the web, but, i suppose, inevitable.

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  • ambien

    It has really helped me get to sleep. I would find myself still awake at 2 in the morning, staring at the walls. Then I couldn't get up in the morning. It's great!

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