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December 14, 2007

Just to underscore the impetus behind the launch of Googlepedia - er, Knol - I went back to rerun a test I first ran over a year ago to see how high Wikipedia pages rank in a random set of Google searches. Here were the results on August 10, 2006:

World War II: #1
Israel: #1
George Washington: #4
Genome: #9
Agriculture: #6
Herman Melville: #3
Internet: #5
Magna Carta: #2
Evolution: #3
Epilepsy: #6

And here are the results today:

World War II: #1
Israel: #1
George Washington: #2
Genome: #1
Agriculture: #1
Herman Melville: #1
Internet: #1
Magna Carta: #1
Evolution: #1
Epilepsy: #3

This kind of looks like a trend, no?

I'm guessing that serving as the front door for a vast ad-less info-moshpit outfitted with open source search tools is not exactly the future that Google has in mind for itself. Enter Knol.


The emergence of Googlepedia may cause Jimmy Wales to back off on his hubristic threat to set up his own search engine. All Google has to do is pull the plug on Wikipedia hits and he is dead in the water. I suspect this is what they will do in a few years anyway.

Posted by: Norm Potter at December 14, 2007 02:05 PM

vast ad-less info-moshpit outfitted with open source search tools

Dude, are you just trying to start another FIRESTORM!?!

Posted by: Joe Duck at December 14, 2007 04:19 PM

"All Google has to do is pull the plug on Wikipedia hits and he is dead in the water."

Actually, with Knols, Google may have, legally, made it difficult to consider pulling Wikipedia out of its search results.

Posted by: Shelley at December 14, 2007 04:24 PM

Joe: Please don't use the F word here. Nick

Posted by: Nick Carr at December 14, 2007 04:24 PM

I don't see any way that Google would or could exile Wikipedia from its search results, and as Shelley points out it's pretty much impossible now. As Google moves further into hosting the content it searches, and making money off the content through advertising, it will face increasing scrutiny about conflicts of interest and consolidation of control.

Posted by: Nick Carr at December 14, 2007 04:41 PM

Yeah, Google torpedoing the most relevant search results seems a bit unlikely. Everything they've ever done is geared toward delivering the most relevant search results. If they happen to own the most relevant search destination (e.g., YouTube, GoogleMaps), so be it.

If they could, they'd buy Wikipedia, just like they did with YouTube. Instead, they're building a different solution themselves. Duh factor is high.

Posted by: mrshl at December 14, 2007 04:48 PM

Shelly pointed out correctly here. Wikipedia is here to stay. Also, we should note that Wikipedia is a "brand" on its own and its survival doesn't rely solely on Google traffic. I don't see this as an effort by Google to kick Wikipedia out of the game. Rather, I see it as Google;s efforts to add another layer of filtering around its search engine results. An attempt to augment its search results by adding some authoritative articles into the mix. As in the case of slogs, there will be a cottage industry to game this system. The success or failure of Knol depends on how it handles this kinda gaming. Any talk about the death of Wikipedia is premature.

Posted by: Krish at December 14, 2007 05:10 PM

There is a typo on Shelley's name. I apologize.

Posted by: Krish at December 14, 2007 05:11 PM

Hi there Nick. Terrific blog. Is it possible to cut and paste a Wikipedia entry into Knol?

I'm all for alternatives. They'll stand up on their own strengths until such time as the internet is tiered. A thought that depresses me.

Posted by: Charles at December 14, 2007 08:55 PM

I wonder if Knol isn't going to become the new hangout for Internet Marketers, much like Squidoo. After all, marketers can create authority and make a little cash to boot, just by becoming a "knol-master" . . . uh, "author".

Posted by: Terry Heath at December 14, 2007 09:33 PM

Your test is bogus.

You "made up a list off the top of your head".

So, this measures Wikipedia's relevance to issues you think are "hot".

Taking Google's perspective, you should look at the "most common searches," perhaps weighted by the searchers' value to advertisers (if you can find such data).


Posted by: Tom Lord at December 14, 2007 10:32 PM

Your test is bogus.

It sure as hell isn't scientific, but I don't think it's bogus at all. I think it's illustrative. Feel free to engineer the test any way you want. I think you'll find the result is the same.

Tom Lord: #2
Thomas Lord: #1
Tom: #3
Lord: #2
Bogus: #3 (even adjectives!)

Posted by: Nick Carr at December 14, 2007 11:03 PM

So, that test:

Yeah, "Tom Lord" -- Well, you and I live in very proximate echo chambers. That's part of why I like reading you -- mine could use more of much of what you have to say (to damp down the noise).

So, here's my own off the top of my head test, based on some conversations I've had recently with people outside these echo chambers:

Linux in education: not in the first 3 pages
Beer english hops: #1
Lyrics Well Smog: not in the first 3 pages
Huckabee Mormon speech: not in the first 3 pages
Berkeley dry cleaners: not in the first 3 pages

Make of that what you will.


Posted by: Tom Lord at December 15, 2007 04:36 AM

How sure are you that this is a really serious project. There does not seem to be a lot of substance to it. Show us the Knols! Google does a lot of things that don't really get out of the barest beta phase. This feels to me like another one...

Posted by: adam digital at December 15, 2007 06:40 AM

I don't buy the theory that Google would not exile Wikipedia, and I find it personally boring that Wikipedia always turns up in the top three. WP content is annoying - sometimes very good and sometimes very bad, and a lot of in-between mush. I now tend to skip the WP article and look at the far more interesting material down the Google hits page, or even, God forbid, on page two or even three.

First, if Jimbo sets up his own search system, and Google sets up its own -pedia, what's the problem? People can still search WP without using their Google toolbar window, and if they want there are a lot of WP widgets out there. Presumably Jimbo will come up with his own toolbar window for Firefox.

The Web is becoming increasingly fossilized under the dominance of Wikipedia and its pyjama-clad priesthood, hiding behind their usernames. As far as I am concerned, the more competition the better. the Web is the -pedia, not Jimbo's big elephant.

So bravo to the Googleplex.

Posted by: Norm Potter at December 15, 2007 06:50 AM

It's very simple. We still have the choice as to which search engine we use. If the quality of search results drop due to Google's greed. We can all choose to use another search engine. Up to now, I have been a big fan of Google but believe me, I will be the first.

Posted by: chrisbolton at December 15, 2007 08:14 AM

All looks splendid but, in true techie fashion (sorry to be cynical), no one tells you what to do to contribute.

I am an elderly academic, of the kind who may not be sufficiently dinosaural to ignore what is going on but yet able to make a contribution (40 years university teaching must count for something, doesn't it?) and, therefore in need of a bit of help to get connected. Please?


Posted by: petronius at December 15, 2007 08:22 AM

Yes, it is Wikipedia by Google. But it has better features for author to monetize written page, related search box and Peer review widget.

I think it is great to have a better version of wikipedia and I am sure Google will do greater job in this area.

I would certainly not advocate the monopoly, but you got to be smarter and quicker to kill the beast, other they stories will repeat itself.

Posted by: Saurabh Kaushik at December 15, 2007 08:54 AM

Petronius, Right now, the Knol service is in a testing phase, limited to people invited by Google. Unless you receive such an invitation (and there doesn't seem to be any way to request one), you'll have to wait until they open the service up to the public.

Tom, Yes, Wikipedia's dominance is limited to well-defined subjects and doesn't extend to more idiosyncratic or specialized searches. Still, the number of subjects is enormous, as is the number of people that Google funnels to Wikipedia through its search results.

Posted by: Nick Carr at December 15, 2007 09:18 AM

With all due respect: Google offered spectacular help to Wikipedia, if not for personal believes of a vast majority of its employees, simply because it seemed fair to help the producer of such good content -- and who else then the guy who measures the click-though can tell? Wikipedia declined most of the time, rightfully preferring its independence and user donations.


Once again, Knol offer a distinct, decisive opportunity that Wikipedia can't offer: the abilty to sign your own contribution, and not see them defaced by an illiterate, 15-y.o. “1337” h4ck3r!!!
Of all people, I was expecting Nick “Web2.0 is over-blown, close Wikipedia now & please give me my Almighty Editor back” Carr to support the idea. I guess I love this blog because of the surprises. Or the drama.

Regarding the full copy of articles, cum loads of ads, as long as you state the licence (just write a criptic “GPLCL” or something) and link back to Wikipedia, you are legally fine by Wikipedia standard. About.com has been doing exactly that for years, and Google is only demecratizing the system. What happens to you PageRank? Well, you end up somewhere between About and the usual spam-copyblog: low, and going down. So, no: it is not worth the effort, and Google has one more incentive not to favour its own services.

Posted by: Bertil at December 15, 2007 10:17 AM

Of all people, I was expecting Nick Carr to support the idea.

Did I say I don't?

By the way, Bertil, have you been talking with CyberLover recently?

Posted by: Nick Carr at December 15, 2007 11:12 AM

Boys, please settle down! “I guess I love this blog because of the surprises. Or the drama.” With spice and wit, the content is pushed out to the front edge and it truly enlivens. Mr. Carr is after all the proverbial naughty but bright boy who is liked by “almost” every one in class.


Posted by: alan at December 15, 2007 01:58 PM

Tom Lord said:

"...you should look at the "most common searches"

Looking at this:


the list becomes:

iphone #4

badoo #4

facebook #3

dailymotion #12

webkinz #4

youtube #11

ebuddy #12

second life #3

hi5 #19

club penguin #5

Nick's point is still fairly illustrative, I reckon.

Posted by: joss at December 15, 2007 04:09 PM

And, for the hell of it, let's break down Tom's searches into their "units of knowledge," as Google puts it:

Linux: #3
Education: #4
Beer: #2
English: #1
Hops: #2
Lyrics: #20
Well: #3
Smog: #1
Huckabee: #3
Mormon: #2
Speech: #2
Berkeley: #3
Dry: #2
Cleaners: #4

Posted by: Nick Carr at December 15, 2007 06:52 PM

We're doomed to agree to disagree, this round, fellas but, again:

Don't just be looking at "units of knowledge" or "most numerous search terms". The game isn't on that field.

Give me searches ranked by the advertising value of the searcher, and then we can talk.


Posted by: Tom Lord at December 15, 2007 07:39 PM

Nick- Recalling your distaste at the sound of the word "blog," I must say that "knol" is far worse. I suspect it is klingon for "spam."

Posted by: Sid Steward at December 18, 2007 08:44 AM

Quick comment on the Tom / Nick discussion:
Wikipedia dominates Google search results on searches for words and names, and therefore gets more than 2% (and growing) of the total traffic coming from Google, more than any other single site. However the most monetizable queries are generally longer and more targeted. So Wikipedia may be #1 on World War 2, but on Las Vegas they drop to #9 (still not bad at all) and on Las Vegas hotels their top hit is #193. Wikipedia is Google's #1 destination, and it dominates one type of search (which happens to include the most popular queries). But to call Google a front-door to Wikipedia is to ignore the 98% of generally more monetizable traffic that's going elsewhere.

Posted by: Gil Reich at December 18, 2007 09:26 AM


Thanks for data and perspective. Sounds right.


Posted by: Nick Carr at December 18, 2007 09:31 AM

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