Knol, useful for SEO, but what about me?
So Knol has launched. I talked about this when they first talked about Knol and I didn’t get it then. I continue to not get it. Ok, let me qualify, anything Google does is worth a look and where Google allows a revenue share, it’s going to attract attention as well as usage, no doubt. But I’m talking about its utility to me.
First off, it doesn’t seem anything at all like a wiki in general or Wikipedia in specific. There’s no collaboration. What? You ask. There is! Technically there may be, but my perusal of many, many random pages shows that they all have “closed collaboration” so, no, no external edits. Or at best “moderated collaboration”, which is still quite rare, but found on two of the featured knols. It isn’t clear, but this makes sense given the revenue sharing potential. Would they have to share revenue with collaborators? If not, as a collaborator, why wouldn’t I just create my own knol instead of helping someone else make more money?
Of course Google understands that there will be many knols about the same or similar topics. Unlike Wikipedia, there’s no single page to link to, they hope that the ratings will bubble up the best. But their search does not seem to pay attention to ratings nor does it give you the option to sort by ratings. So I’m not really clear why that helps.
One of the most compelling things about Wikipedia is that it links to itself all the time to help explain and demonstrate various terms. It does this because wiki’s make it easy to link to other pages – it can do that because it knows there’s only one page per topic. Knols with their fragmentation and regular html linking make it as likely for them not to link at all or to link out to other pages on the internet as it is to link to another knol page.
So, when I want to find out about a topic on Knol, I have to search the site, then go through the various knols, reading them and evaluating them all to see which one I agree with. Well. Hm.. how is that not just the internet? Turns out the first page of google search results for most topics is pretty good at giving you several pages with reasonable information on a given topic. Wikipedia tries (and in my experience, generally succeeds) at providing a single page with a balance of viewpoints.
What it does help out with, though, is much more structured data. It actually has fields like title, summary, alternative titles, etc… This makes it much easier to start. And its wysiwyg editor is much friendlier than having to learn wiki markup which is quite user unfriendly, so the bar to create is much lower which I appreciate.
Also, allowing comments on the page as opposed to requiring people to edit the page to add a comment (which is intimidating and a huge barrier) is an extremely good thing to encourage participation. Wikipedia would be wise to emulate that – if someone wants to contribute but doesn’t want to go and edit a page (believe me, this is a barrier) allowing them to comment would be a great way to facilitate. It is interesting that they distinguish reviews from comments, personally I think I’d mesh the two together instead of separating them technically and visually. I think this confuses people as well, several “reviews” were nothing more than comments or suggestions.
Google is, of course, requiring a google account to create knols. Interestingly, they’re going Amazon style and offering a credit card validation of your full name and they also offer phone validation where they match your info against a telephone directory. Interesting. Doing this earns you a “verified” badge under you profile picture. This all seems to be a part of Google’s master plan to use your full name across it’s social networking spectrum. I’m ambivalent about it but I know a lot of people were really clamoring for something like this.
Of course this is supposed to add to the quality of the articles. Google claims that a knol is an authoritative article about a specific topic. How that isn’t false advertising, I’m not really sure. I could post up an in depth knol on diabetes right now.
As I suggested before, this is simply an SEO play. As such, I’m guessing this becomes the playground for marketing and it won’t be long before Knol crews form to rate the desired knols up (should ratings begin to play a significant part in the knol ecology). It will have this in common with Digg, which Google seems to respect.
Also it seems like it has much more DNA in common with About.com than Wikipedia, taking the About model of paying its guides and expanding that to turn everyone into a potential guide. Can I say it? Yes, knol is like About.com meets Geocities. I did it.
As an SEO play, I suspect Wikipedia still trumps it by the fact that Wikipedia is a communal page that makes no profit. By that measure, it’s neutral, or as neutral as something like that is going to be and so nicely linkable. Knol with its single voice pages, I suspect, will be like more shouts in the echo chamber. We’ll see a lot of spammy pages for valuable keywords.
While it technically offers some interesting and better alternatives to Wikipedia, I doubt Knol becomes a useful destination for me. Do you plan on contributing to knol with new pages or edits to existing ones? How do you think it plays out?