Last week, I wrote about Google’s newest online product, Knol. Since it is a Google property, the world took notice and immediately began examining it. It seems that Aaron Wall has uncovered not so much a flaw as a bias in the way Google handles Knol articles. In his testing, he found that even though his original content was on a Google PageRank 5 page hosted on an authoritative site ( that has been around for years, the Knol article with the same content ranks first on a search.

Some may call this the Query Deserves Freshness algorithm, but one might equally decide to call it the copyright work deserves to be stolen algorithm. Google knows the content is duplicate (as proven by the notification they put on their page), and yet they prefer to rank their own house content over the originally published source.

Perhaps Aaron’s search was flawed, or maybe another phrase from the work would have resulted in a different ordering of results, but I doubt it. Darren Rowse, from Problogger, has weighed in on the matter as well. He makes a good point about the page rankings and search results.

Of course this is Google’s right to do - they can set their own business plan - but I guess they need to be willing to be up front about it and name what they are doing for what it is.

I must agree. It is possible that we are giving Google’s algorithm too much credit for complexity, because after all, simplicity is beauty, right? I think that Google is ranking the Knol results higher because they probably rank anything from the domain as higher by default.

And why not? As Darren pointed out, it is their right as a business to recommend their products and services over others. I’m not even sure they need to disclose the fact that they will do it. After all, they are a search engine. There is no guarantee that your data will appear before theirs in the results section.

I am not an expert in copyright, but a breakdown could occur if copyrighted content finds its way on to Knol where it is protected by a Creative Commons license. I would hope that Google would remove content at the request of the original author without much hassle, but that still places the onus of proof (and the need to track copyrighted material) on the author.

And then there’s Wikipedia. Over on Open Culture, they have posted up a video of Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, being interviewed. He is asked for his thoughts on Knol. The video is only 4 minutes long and a worthwhile listen. Jimmy points out that the Creative Commons license on Knol articles could potentially allow for the copying of articles or the information contained therein to Wikipedia. This could be a boon to the favorite source for undergraduate research in the Internet age.

Jason Calacanis posted an article shortly after I put this up on Indigo Spot. He makes some very good points and has excellent insight into the entire Knol and search ranking situation. He also addresses the issue of Google as a content provider.

What does it mean for

Our goal as business is to get the majority of traffic from direct and non-search referring sites, so if Knol pushes us down one result on every search result it’s not the end of the world. If Knol results are three or 10 of the top 30 results? Oh, then we might have a slight problem.

When designing Mahalo as a business, my model was to get our pages within the first 30 results on Google and Yahoo some of the time–like 20% of the time. We never expect to beat Wikipedia on a ranking. It seems that Google is going to ram Knol into the top search rankings–which they did during week one. So, we’re gonna to all have to build a model where almost always being behind Knol and Wikipedia works. I think this isn’t that big of deal–right now.

Also, as hedge we’re partnering with Google. We’ve put 30 of our How To articles into Knol, and we’re very big partners with YouTube on our Mahalo Daily show.

If you can’t beat them join them. If Google is destined to be the new Microsoft then it’s best to get into the tent early…..


So what do you think? Are these valid concerns with Google? What does Google as a content provider mean for other players in the industry?