Umair Haque / Bubblegeneration
umair haque  


Design principles for 21st century companies, markets, and economies. Foreword by Gary Hamel. Coming January 4th. Pre-order at Amazon.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Economics of Community, or How to pwn Google

Google Knol is (unfortunately) an error. It won't work.

First - note that Knol is nothing like wikipedia. If you think it is, you're really not thinking deeply about this stuff at all. Knol doesn't have any of the managerial DNA that Wikipedia does.

It's more like Squidoo - and we know how that story ended.

And so - you can reread my peer production ppt to think about why - the economics don't give it any advantage over Wikipedia. Knol doesn't have the potential to realize (hyper)specialization gains as deeply as Wikipedia.

There's a deeper point. Google is great at markets. But Google has always failed at networks and communities. That's kind of in it's (hyperquant) DNA.

I mean knol is being announced by Google's engineering vp. Lolz. That's telling of Google's DNA - and why that DNA always blocks Google from building true networks/communities.

Let me make it as simple as possible: communities need love to work - not math.

But Udi says:

"Knols will include strong community tools. People will be able to submit comments, questions, edits, additional content, and so on. Anyone will be able to rate a knol or write a review of it."


Udi, Larry, Sergey, Eric - uhhhh...communities aren't tools.

They're ways of organizing production. Just like Adwords isn't a tool, but a set of incentives and outcomes - so are communities.

That's why you guys are almost perfectly consistently unable to ever build a real network or community: you view them through the narrow lens of geeks.

Let me reiterate: communities need love, not math. Communities have sprung up in the unlikeliest of places, with minimal "tools" - because the organizers have discovered how to demonstrate their love for stuff, and surface it in others.

Let me make the point even sharper.

Udi thinks the problem is:

"...But not everything is written nor is everything well organized to make it easily discoverable."

Actually - that's the solution.

Because communities are deeply messy places: that's a deep part of how they create value. Denim lovers will never talk about, for example, their favorite jeans, in ways that will be "easily discoverable" - because the more you love something, the harder it is to fit your relationship with it into an algorithmically predetermined box.

In this messiness, funnily enough, they're not so different from markets. But where Google can harness the messiness of markets - it sees only disorder and chaos in communities.

That's unfortunate.

Because unless knol is a (true) market, network, or community - it stands absolutely no chance of competing with Wikipedia. It's economics are almost totally dominated - if not totally nonexistent.

-- umair // 9:55 AM // 9 comments


I was disappointed about the lack of semantic Web gobbledegook. At least if they're going to geek it up, geek it up 3.0 style.
// Blogger Paul Montgomery // 11:18 AM

One can argue that Google is learning from Microsoft's 90s playbook.

On a related note, few of Google's offerings including, haven't worked as successfully as they ere thought to be.
// Blogger Pramit Singh // 12:25 PM

hey pramit,

that was kind of the point - those initatives are all networks/communities, none of them have panned out.

google can't do networks/communities --> wrong DNA.

i'm not sure i buy the ms analogy entirely, though it works to some extent - i think wal-mart is a better analogy - but that's a different discussion :)

thx for the comments guys.
// Blogger umair // 12:28 PM

Did you see Rubel's analysis? It's laughably stupid
// Blogger Ryan Clark Holiday // 5:46 PM

This is about being published and found. It says nothing about how the communities are formed.

There are many ways for communities to form and organize. Google doesn't have to provide the whole thing.

This adds value that can't be garnered any other place. This is not competing with Wikipedia. This is about disintermediating publishers.
// OpenID Kevin // 5:03 AM

hey kevin,

what value is really added here?

if google doesn't provide the "whole thing", then - why bother making knol in the first place?


// Blogger umair // 11:43 AM

this disintermediates a whole host of control-freaks, and becomes a path of least resistance.

the press release, etc say nothing about how content is produced. Collaboration could happen a host of levels. It's certainly possible for people to collaborate and publish now using Google Docs. When Jotspot is released Google will have their wiki. A wiki that will be *much* easier to use than Mediawiki. Again, this lowers the level of resistance to entry.

It's too bad that Google used a Wikipedia like example. By doing so they focused the attention on this as a "Wikipedia killer". This is going to kill off a lot of other old publishing entities before it impacts Wikipedia. I don't see the Wikipedia community bolting.
// OpenID Kevin // 12:43 PM

hey kevin,

that could certainly turn out to be the case, and i think that's the key here.

unfotunately, if you look at the screenshots udi posted, knol doesn't seem to have been built with collaboration in mind.

i guess we'll have to wait and see.

thx for the comments.
// Blogger umair // 12:51 PM

Umair, I think you're reading this wrong.
Knol isn't about communities or networks, it's about putting more adwords in front of people. If a community of writers editors like Wikipedia's doesn't evolve (which, I agree, is unlikely), then Google can certainly afford to pay for content creation.
Let's keep in mind that unlike social networks, where all users at least have a personal page, and most contribute content (wall posts etc.), in Wikipedia, a majority of users only look at content - they're not really part of the community. In other words, it shouldn't cost that much to replicate the content creation, if you can monetize the result as well as Google can.
Moreover, unlike a community/network, where the social interactions play an important role in what draws people to the content, in Wikipedia most content is neutral (or at least hopes to be) from a community perspective, so it doesn't matter if a hired hand had created it, instead of a volunteer.

Anyway, when you control traffic on the web, it's just a matter of time until some exec comes up with the idea of increasing revenue by keeping more of that monetizable traffic for yourself.
It does lie outside of Google's core competence of engineering prowess, I'll give you that.
// Anonymous Elad // 8:43 AM
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