Google Knol and Search Engine Woes

Will Google’s Knol start taking over Google’s search results? Who knols?

Ha! Sorry, I was dying to make that joke. Moving on now…

Just a week after it’s launch, Google’s Knol is beginning to stir up some controversy. First, Wil Reynolds of Seer Interactive noticed that a Knol article was already ranking high on Google for the search phrase “how to backpack“. As of this post, the article is ranking #1 on Google. (Incidentally, the author, Ryan Moulton, is a Google employee.)

“Really?” exclaimed Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land. “I mean, how many links could this page have gotten already?” Then Aaron Wall of SEO Book tried a test: he created a Knol that replicated content he’s published elsewhere—an article on SEO basics. Just compare the two (original and duplicate) and you’ll see they’re a word-for-word copy.

Say you tried to search for that exact article (using an exact sentence from it). What would you expect would happen? You’d probably get the original article—since it’s older and thus more likely the original—and perhaps the Knol article somewhere below it if Google has started ranking its Knol articles, right? That’s what Wall expected too. What happened instead was the Knol article ranked higher than the original. Of this, Wall says (emphasis his):

Some may call this the Query Deserves Freshness algorithm, but one might equally decide to call it the copyright work deserves to be stolen algorithm. Google knows the content is duplicate (as proven by the notification they put on their page), and yet they prefer to rank their own house content over the originally published source.

Whoa boy, time to copy some of my old content and slap it into Knol! But… aw rats, the “create a Knol” function seems to be down right now. Perhaps there are too many other people trying to do the same thing?

Quite a few others feel similarly to Wall. Dare Obasanjo of 25hoursaday.com also tried his own test similar to Sullivan’s, and concluded that (emphasis his):

Google is clearly favoring Knol content over content from older, more highly linked sites on the Web. I won’t bother with the question of whether Google is doing this on purpose or whether this is some innocent mistake. The important question is “What are they going to do about it now that we’ve found out?

This observation kind of runs counter to what Google told Sullivan earlier:

Google assured me that the authority of Google’s domain wouldn’t give Knol any additional trust. Knol pages will be scored based on the links and PageRank pointing to individual pages.

Huh, really? Doesn’t quite seem that way, does it?

Mahalo.com’s Jason Calacanis isn’t very happy either. He blasted Google in his latest email:

Now, Google says they will do no evil and since I’ve worked with their team across three companies I tend to believe them. However, with the launch of Google Knol I feel like they are not being totally up front with us–their partners. It feels like they’ve stabbed us in the back to be honest. I’m not the only one who feels this way–even if I’m the only one stupid enough to say it.

If Google is going to be in the content business and compete for the top ranking in the operating system they control why not be honest about it? Why not have David Eun say, “listen, we’re experimenting with content and we want you to be involved in it. Put your content in Knol!”

Frankly, it’s insulting to say you’re not in the content business and then launch Knol and compete with content companies for their authors, users, and placement in the rankings that you control.

For the record, dishonesty falls under evil in my book.

Tell us how you really feel, Calacanis. Heh.

Business-wise, this is pretty smart. They’re adding more instances where users could interact with their properties. More instances means more pageviews, more ad space to sell, and more control. And in their eyes, if Knol’s content really is of higher quality than, say, Wikipedia’s content, then it deserves to rank higher.

Also, just to compare—Yahoo’s search engine already does this. A search for Dark Knight yields a search results module from Yahoo! Movies at the top, above the official movie site from Warner Bros. and IMDb. No one’s cried foul on Yahoo for this.

But then again, Yahoo! Movies has editorial content from Yahoo, whereas Knol has user generated content (that is rated and possibly written collaboratively). Plus—to Calacanis’ point—Yahoo makes no mistake that it’s a media company, whereas Google has always stated that it’s not

Controversy indeed. I wonder what’s going to come of all this. Whatever it’ll be, I agree with Internet Entrepreneur Joe Duck: “I expect knol to be a huge topic at the upcoming search conference – SES San Jose.” It sure will be.

Author: Mike Lee

An idealistic realist, humanistic technologist & constant student.

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