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Virtualization: Article

Google's Knol vs Ulitzer

Forget both Google and Wales, the real winners in 2009 will come from fresh and creative start-ups like Ulitzer

Despite Google's $159 billion market cap - or rather, one suspects, because of it - Jimmy Wales, the guy who created - for better or worse - Wikipedia, figures Internet search is broken - because it's proprietary - and needs to be reinvented, freeing "the judgment of information from invisible rules inside an algorithmic black box."  (Odd, he questions the biases of algorithms more than Wikipedia articles. Hmmm.)

This was the news story late this summer that summarized Jimmy Wales mega aspirations to directly compete with Google.

Anyway, back in the beginning of 2007 he set up a LAMP-based project called Search Wikia to build a new for-profit search platform out of open source search protocols - like the open source Lucene search engine widgetry - and Wikipedia-like human collaboration. Later, he acquired the Grub web crawler - dusty shelf-ware for the last few years - from LookSmart Ltd, an online targeted advertising company, on undisclosed terms and open sourced it.

However, since LookSmart will be feeding ads into Jimbo's existing for-profit venture-backed Wikia wiki communities under a new Google-replacing arrangement, it seems apparent where Wikia Search is going. Grub is supposed to push the Google replacement effort along since Lucene lacks a crawler.

Grub is for building a massive, distributed user-contributed processing network - out of volunteers' idle PC cycles to save the cost of building a massive secure infrastructure. And Wales says that combining it with a wiki to form social consensus - and tease out the meaning of words - will move Search Wikia "towards a future where search is open and transparent."

He also says provocatively enough that the idea has generated "a tremendous response from very interesting commercial players in the search space." No doubt, considering the apprehension and envy Google elicits. Jeremie Miller, the founder of the open source instant messaging platform, is now running Wikia Search.

See www.grub.org. Also see http://search.wikia.com.

According to Reuters, which remembered that Amazon has $10 million out of the $14 million in Wikia financing raised so far, a public version of the search site is supposed to launch toward the end of the year, which bring us to last week. Late last Thursday, toward the end of the year, Google answered Wales' public threads with what they call Knol.

According to this TimesOnline story, "Google is to go head-to-head with Wikipedia, the web's largest reference work, in a clash of two of the internet's most powerful brands. A new Google service, dubbed Knol, will invite 'people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it,' Udi Manber, a Google engineer, said. Like Wikipedia, articles in Knol (the name derives from "knowledge") will be free to read online. In a departure from the nonprofit Wikipedia model, however, Knol's authors will be able to attach advertising to their work and take a share of revenues."

Google news came as a blog post on Thursday that said, "As always, a picture is worth a thousand words, so an example of a Knol is below (double-click on the image to see the page in full). The main content is real, and we encourage you to read it (you may sleep better afterwards!), but most of the meta-data - like reviews, ratings, and comments - are not real, because, of course, this has not been in the public eye as yet. Again, this is a preliminary version."

Google's Knol sounds like a knee-jerk reaction and retaliation to Jimmy Wales' public insults and thread of close to a year. At least that's the common perception out there. Blogger Michael Arrington writes "Knol is not much different than existing products. It's a new knowledge base for authors. Anyone, eventually, will be able to write on any topic they choose. Google will provide authoring tools, store the information, allow others to comment and suggest edits, add ads with the author's approval, and provide traffic via their search engine. ... It's much more likely that Google is jealously eyeing the massive traffic that flows through its search engine to Wikipedia."

So What Does This All Mean?

When a colleague of mine forwarded the TimesOnline link last night, after reading the first couple of lines of the news, I said to myself, this is an answer to the Wikipedia guy, don't screw with us, we will screw with you!

Here is what will and will not happen, in a nutshell. The Wikipedia guy will not build an open source search engine that will end up being a real threat to Google. The Google Knol joke will not constitute a threat to Wikipedia.

Remember if Microsoft's money could have built Google, Google would not exist today. If Google's money could have created MySpace or Facebook, they would not exist.

The chances are Google's half-baked idea to compete with Wikipedia and Wales' attitude toward Google will both remain unchanged and the real winners in 2008 will come from fresh and creative start-ups like Ulitzer.

More Stories By Engin Sezici

Engin Sezici is a travelling blogger-at-large, who held corporate positions at SYS-CON Media from 1995 through 2004. Engin, who retired in 2004, likes to travel through Europe and Greek Islands, reports on technology subjects from around the world and lives on a private island in the Bahamas wih his twin brother when he is not on the road. You can reach him at engin(at)sys-con.com.