Search pundit Danny Sullivan often jokes that he remembers when “Google used to be a search engine.” They’ve become an advertising business, a cell-phone operating system maker, a blog platform, and now a venture capital firm.
But at their core, Google is about search. And Knol, their “answer to Wikipedia,” creates a screaming conflict of interest between Google and just about any self-publishing copyright holder. Aaron Wall’s SEO book describes the degree to which Knol gains preferential treatment from Google’s search engine.
What does skipping to the front of Google’s search listing mean? A lot, particularly to spammers and link farmers. If your copyrighted work exists on a blog, or webpage, and is “shared” on Knol, there’s a pretty good likelihood that “shared” content will eclipse the original content in Google’s search listings. Yes, Google tries to exclude duplicate content, but that’s not the practice in Knol. Spammers are getting ready to “share” your content.
The video below, first pointed out by PlagiarismToday, promotes a product to help link farmers do just that: To grab content from all over the Net and use it to build their reputations and traffic adword-festooned Knol pages. And yes, less than a week after Knol’s debut, programs for automatically posting to Knol exist. The video below shows just how spammers see the “Knol opportunity.” And why, I suggest, publishers on the web should see a Knol threat.
I’m normally Google’s ardent defender. It’s hard not to like a company that provides considerable free services, and that, unlike the airline industry, has a simple, fairly non-abusive pricing structure. But it’s pretty clear that Knol puts Google search on the wrong side in a conflict of interest. The search world is an imperfect balance between rights holders, advertisers, public speech, and searchers. Knol makes this balance worse.
So perhaps Yahoo and Alta Vista have brighter futures than they did last week. Not because of what they’ve done, but because Knol is enough of a threat to copyright holders that the backlash could change Google’s unchallenged role in the search marketplace.