Friday, July 25, 2008

The Revolution Behind Google Knol

Google has announced Knol to the public. When many discussion of Knol focuses on the potential head-to-head competition between Google and Wikipedia, I want to explain the action from a different angle. Hence the title of my analysis become---the revolution behind Google Knol.

First of all, Knol is about authorship. Any Web user can author a knol about what he/she is passionate on. The philosophy behind is that everyone is an expert of something and thus everybody is qualified to author something. Moreover, Google declared that Knol is (or will be) equipped with powerful community tools so that it would not be solely the original author(s) but also anybody who has the same passion to contribute to the knowledge composition. So far it seems that Knol is just another Wikipedia. But the following improvement not only distinguishes Knol from being the Wikipedia II, but also put Knol into a category of revolutionary products ever.

Google decides to provide the Knol authors with a revenue share through the AdSense program.

Readers may be confused on why this is a revolution. Isn't AdSense already a program for years and with millions, if not billions, subscribers? Certainly, it is. But this time, combining AdSense with Knol means different.

By its original design, AdSense is just an advertisement service to prompt Google's leading position in the online advertisement market. By joining the AdSense program, Webmasters may receive a few unexpected, extra money from hosting their original sites. Though this service is a great exploration about Web business models, it is a little bit flattery to call the service revolutionary in its initial thoughts.

By combining AdSense with Knol, some magic chemistry happens. The first time in history, explicitly abstract knowledge (despite of its shallowness) is immediately converted to be monetary asset. The rise of mind asset---this is what the revolution really is about.

In this modern age, children start to learn knowledge even before they go to school. Then they continuously develop their mind in various aspects during growing up. Eventually, however, only a small portion of their mind may bring them monetary payback, i.e., the so-called professional knowledge---the portion of mind related to their professional work or paid jobs. Most of the other mind is simply wasted. People may have spent much time and money to build up the unprofessional portion of mind (and these mind may be very much valuable to the other people). But until now very few people can really receive physical benefit (especially monetary benefit) from the unprofessional portion of mind. The announcement of Knol starts to change this situation.

Before Knol, people have already been able to freely embody their mind, either the professional portion or the unprofessional portion, online. From Wikipedia to squidoo, many sites have been profitable by asking for the free contribution of user generated content. On the other hand, the human volunteers at these sites receive nothing but a few questionable "fame" by embodying their mind online. Certainly, the value between the generation of mind and the embodiment of mind is imbalanced. Human mind has never been seriously treated as worthy personal asset that has its monetary value.

After coupling Knol with AdSense, Google admits (no matter it is intentionally or unconsciously) that any human mind is worth of certain amount of money. Moreover, Google evaluates the amount of equivalence between embodied mind and currency money through AdSense. In the other words, AdSense plays as a standard to measure how much money certain embodied mind is worth. Popular embodied mind (such as Britney Spears) may be evaluated by Google be more valuable than the others since they are searched and viewed more frequently. Despite people may argue whether such a measurement of the value of embodied mind is fair or it might be improved, this progress itself is revolutionary because it realizes a concept---mind is a type of circulating asset the same as capital!

Google has made a small step, but human world has made a great step. In a previous post, I have predicted the rise of mind asset in the progress of Web evolution. Knol is a concrete signal that this prediction is coming true. Through Knol and AdSense, we are still far away from measure the fair value of human mind, let it alone to produce high-quality mind asset so that it may worth more. But this is still an exciting beginning, when any mind (discarding its shallowness) is generally seen as an asset.

A few more thoughts I wonder

Competing to get the authorship of popular topics in Knol is a way to make extra income, especially for somebody who is knowledgeable. Unlike setting up a random personal site, embodying mind in Knol is guaranteed to be popular if the content is popular (watch the story of reaching Page 1 on Google in 24 hours). Make money by your own knowledge, this is a divine intuition.

Comparing to Knol, Microsoft's Live Search cashback is so clumsy a program. Though both companies try to get more user engagement by paying users, Google pay users to grant for their knowledge---a honorable and bright side of humanity, while Microsoft tries to amplify the greediness of users for paying less to obtain more---a dark side of humanity. "Don't be evil", I am glad to see that Google proves its informal corporate motto again.

Many current analysis focuses just on Knol and Wikipedia. In fact, however, the first sacrifice of Knol might be squidoo, a company whose motto is "Everyone’s an expert on something!". Wikipedia is still too popular and powerful to be shaken by this new initiative. But for little niche players such as squidoo, its time may come to the end. This action is another sign that niche-domain companies must try to either grow up faster or sell themselves quicker to the big brothers. Or otherwise they may not survive long even if once they are seemly to be successful.

At last, Adam Lindemann, Galen Kaufman, and I are thinking of producing a variety of mind asset for end users. Imindi, a company full of genuine products, is going to amaze the world. One of the key mission of Imindi is to help ordinary people build their mind asset. Google Knol has shown us a positive example of mind asset construction. We believe that during the Web evolution, any mind of ordinary people will eventually be some sort of general-purpose asset that can be shared, delivered, and transacted among people.


Anonymous said...

As usual, you are feeling the zeitgist :-)

Yes, the era of concrete intellectual capital and assets is neigh, but there is one vital component, and that's the "Attribution" bit. If we have an attribution chain comprised of individuals who have person entity URIs (Identifiers) that are dereferencable, we will indeed have a real revolution.

The real awakening would be that people would see the utility in acquiring URIs since the URI becomes their brand toke/emblem/imprint in addition to offerring a conduit into their own data spaces.

OpenID's utility beyond "single signon" will also be much clearer. Ditto the power of OpenID service providers that mesh OpenID and FOAF.

I am going to write further about this matter in the coming weeks.

Yihong Ding said...

Dear Kingsley,

Thank you for the comment, and especially the part of dereferenceable URI. As you said, Knol is also a natural platform to experiment the idea of linked data. Moreover, the concept of linked data is not just about data, but also about linking the creators of data who are humans. Eventually, this progress may lead to another degree of online identity formalization. If it happens, as you said, "we will indeed have a real revolution."

Look forward to reading more of your mind about dereferenceable URI, OpenID, and FOAF soon.