What if Google Ruled the World?

The debate over Google Knol vs Wikipedia continues to rage unabated before Knol has even been launched. But the real issue is the gradual spread of Google’s tentacles.

Google have clearly signalled their intent to drive new revenue streams from owning online content. And what better way to quickly build up a rich cache of material than to invade Wikipedia’s domain? But Knol differs from Wikipedia in that the focus is on authorship, so it’s more like a blog/wiki mashup.

Wikipedia is a wonderful project, but it has always suffered from a credibility gap. With crowd-sourced content we can never be certain where the boundary between truth and folklore lies. Knol addresses that to a certain extent through the use of accredited subject matter experts. How much editorial influence will be vested in individual users is not clear at this stage.

Some commentators have already predicted a disturbing dystopian future in which “content and advertising become indistinguishable”. But in the “co-production economy” I thought we were supposed to be able to subvert and avoid vested interests and traditional media?

But there is another important principle at stake here. If Google both owns the content and controls the search hierarchy, that seems like a great deal of power to concentrate in the hands of a single corporation. Will Google rise to be the most powerful media outlet in say another ten years? In war, the victor gets to rewrite history. That’s a concern here too.

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft is again making serious overtures to Yahoo. (Microsoft’s new CFO, ex-pat New Zealander Chris Lidell, is rumoured to be driving the purchase proposal.) MS clearly needs to shore up its offering in the face of Google’s incessant assault on its patch. We will probably end up with an online content and advertising duopoly. Either way, the dim flame of unfettered “citizen journalism” and freedom from vested corporate interests is likely to be snuffed out. Webstockers might like to chew over this possibility whilst they dine out at Google’s expense this week.

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