The only difference is this time its on the grounds of technology and new products. Very recently Google announced a new product named Knol. Its supposed to take on the dominance of Wikipedia. Was this necessary? Well a lot of things were not necessary but Google still decided to do those and needless to say they have been very very successful in it.
Google describes Knol as ‘an authoritative article about a specific topic’. I dug around for a while and what I understand is its basically Google’s Wikipedia with a few improvements thrown in. For instance, the credentials of an author are verified in Knol and thus the postings might have more credibility. Another nice thing about Knol is the user comments section. Pretty nice to have. The thing with user comments is that they can very quickly degenerate into meaningless battles. So its a nice to have feature with limited benefits.
A lot of people have criticized Google for reinventing the wheel with its ‘me too’ applications. Well I do not see why someone should not attempt at inventing a better wheel. And Google has been very good with reinventions. Look at Gmail or Google Talk. There were established webmail providers and internet chat services before Google came along with its offerings. Google’s offerings were compelling and now have a huge user base. They thought things differently. Thats what differentiated Google’s apps from the rest. Even Google’s search engine displaced established players like Alta Vista, Lycos and Yahoo!. So Google itself can be termed as a reinvention.
The same does not seem to apply to Knol though. I for one, find Wikipedia to be a very useful site with a lot of information thats really worthwhile. It also offers a very easy and largely effective search facility. In the past a lot of reports have exposed several weaknesses of Wikipedia including spurious postings. Ever since those reports, Wikipedia has tightened things up. But inspite of all this, is a new Wikipedia-like application justified? Is Knol really immune to the problems that Wikipedia faced? Only time will tell.
I would have really liked Google to come up with a product that would have enabled Wikipedia to be more authoritative, credible and secure. Why not add Google’s method of verifying credentials to Wikipedia? Why not add the user comments feature to Wikipedia? Why not get Google to collaborate more with the community and thus generate better results? Why not leverage the already vast article base on Wikipedia rather then creating the same?
Even though most of Google’s products are free to use, as a company they don’t seem to be interested in contributing to existing efforts in the community. Rather they prefer to go their own way. Maybe thats their strategy. Maybe thats their goal. Maybe they intend to become to the internet what Microsoft is to the desktop world.