Last week with the announcement of Google Knols, much of the conversation centered around how this was going to affect sites like Wikipedia. However what the announcement also revealed was Google’s philosophy about how they interact with the world.
According to Google’s mission statement their objective is to organize the worlds information, however what they often leave out is they feel they should be stewards of that information as well. If taking control of your information fits into their mission statement, oh well the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one. That sounds really nice and altruistic, that is unless of course you are the few or the one, in which case it pretty much sucks being thrown under the bus.
Here’s an example, Google decides to start digitizing and scanning books into a 21st century equivalent of the library at Alexandria. It ruffles a few feathers in the publishing world, so they try to be accommodating giving you a method to “opt out”. To recap Google decided your information was more valuable to society under their stewardship, so they were willing to sacrifice all of your copyrights to meet their goals. Want them back you now pro-actively have to tell Google you want to opt out. You have to fight to regain something that was already legally yours in the first place.
For many people being included in Google book search is a good thing, it may actually help their exposure and reach. For people like Guy Kawasaki and Seth Godin who will make more money from giving speeches, lectures, and seminars the books serve as advertising and Google promoting them is actually helpful. However for full time authors like Stephen King who make the majority of their money from the sales of books, it’s in their best interest to “opt out” and make sure their books have limited or no previews.
With Google Knols Google is inviting you to contribute information into Google’s collective. They expect you to do it for free, in hopes of getting some advertising revenue downstream. However once you are in bed with Google you are in to for life. What if Google changes their payout ratio and you decide you’d like to use another advertiser … sorry Charlie … you’re out of luck. It remains to be seen whether you will actually be able to pull your information out of Google or not, if you can pull it out, have fun competing with the duplicate content penalties you will suffer because any other domain you put it on will have less trust and authority than Google Knols will. Also I’d love to have an objective legal team from the EFF go over the Knols TOS to see who owns the copyright to material you contribute.
What happens to abandoned Knols … who’s hands do you think they will fall into. Once you’ve expired who do you think will continue to get ad revenues from your content … my bet is they’ll be sitting in bean bag chairs bathed in the glow of lava lamps.
Plain and simple Google is no longer happy treating their employees as children, spoiling them like rich parents making sure all of their needs are taken care of. Now Google is looking to expand the family and bring you into the fold … or more specifically the information you are willing to give them. Just like Wimpy Google will gladly pay you Tuesday for content you give them today.
One can hope that Udi Manber will realize the error of his ways and pull back, realizing he is just helping build some communist inspired utopian dream world, where people blindly contribute hoping the state will share the rewards with it’s citizens. However if there’s one thing history has shown us is that absolute power corrupts absolutely, and that road to hell is paved with good intentions gone awry.