Home The Google Knol Threat to Content Businesses – a Wiki Plug-in Might Level The Playing Field

The Google Knol Threat to Content Businesses – a Wiki Plug-in Might Level The Playing Field

Does Knol (our review) make Google into a “content company”? Mahalo founder Jason Calacanis makes a compelling case. You can say he is conflicted, because his Mahalo venture has a lot to lose if Knol succeeds. Or you can say that he knows of what he speaks, because he is in the eye of the storm. Jason’s view that Google is the closest we have to an operating system for the web makes sense. His comparison to how Microsoft, an earlier generation operating system vendor, invaded the application market that had belonged to their partners, rings true. This is what dominant tech companies have always done.

Google has to be careful with this. Their dominance of search and the number of companies that rely upon search engine traffic makes Google vulnerable to antitrust action. This is akin to Microsoft using Windows to take over application markets they deem critical.

Antitrust is a lumbering beast and ineffective in fast moving technology markets. Historically, by the time it lumbers into action, the cycle is starting to move against the incumbent anyway. That happened with both IBM and Microsoft.

I have already written about the danger of a Google monoculture; and was flamed by people who thought I was being alarmist. Slowly-boiled frogs seldom get alarmed until it is too late. The launch of Knol has turned up the heat enough to alarm some more people.

Specifically, the issue with Knol is: how much Google tunes their search algorithm to favor Knol content vs alternative content on the same subject? This is where Google could be crossing the line. This is not so far from Microsoft bundling Explorer in order to beat Netscape.

Mahalo and Squidoo – Roadkill?

The companies that are most at threat are those like Mahalo and Squidoo, i.e. semi-automated aggregation plays. These appealed to VCs because they are more scalable than pure-play content. This market appeals to Google for the same reason. Mahalo, Squidoo and others are in the way and the steamroller is coming. They had better be really agile to get out of the way. They look like roadkill to me.

Google may make more money for individual content creators than they can make from Mahalo, Squidoo or alternatives. So Google will get the popular vote and that may be enough to forestall antitrust action.

However, even individual content creators may want to think twice. With Google providing both the content platform and the revenue, it feels a little bit like a medieval landowner who can change the rules on the peasants when it appeals to them. Of course Google would never be so evil as to exercise their “droit du seigneur“, but why put them in a position where they might be tempted?

The Google Threat to Content Creators

Anybody who employs content creators is certainly sensible to wonder when Google will re-define content in such a way that their business is threatened.

Content creators – whether the individuals or their employers – increasingly rely on either WordPress or MT. Google’s Blogger is a distant third. Both have powerful plugin architectures. There is good open source Wiki code out there. What does it take to create a Knol-like “persistent community content” plugin for WordPress and MT? That looks pretty simple technically. Maybe its already out there, riding below the hype radar. It would fit the author-moderated model of a blogger or Blog network. It adds persistent content (read “more page views”). It gets away from reliance on feeding the reverse chronological mill.

Then use OpenX rather than Google Ad Manager. And Piwik rather than Google Analytics. Bingo, it’s declaration of independence for content creators and their employers.

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