It its never-ending bid to own every inch of your brain, Google has just announced the beginning of its competitor project to Wikipedia. You knew this was coming. You did really, because every time you search for something, you get a Wikipedia page, right? You thought Google wouldn’t notice… There have been some short posts by Esther and Henry at Crooked Timber, and all of us want to hear what Siva will say, since he’s made it his new project to worry about precisely this.
For my part, I find it to be an interesting confirmation that something has changed with respect to innovation on the internet. While it is comforting to suggest that innovation takes place democratically on the Internet because any little guy with an innovation can suddenly become huge and all of a sudden capture billions of eyeballs, or whatever, its pretty clear that Google is turning out to be to the Internet what IBM was to mainframes and Microsoft was to PCs. Which is to say, a monopolist. Only it’s in a totally unregulated environment, where the de facto ideology is that we live in a world of unconstrained free competition; we fool ourselves that this isn’t a monopoly because their tag line is “don’t be evil.”
But in reality, Google didn’t innovate here. There are a bunch of projects that have done what google is proposing to do with “knols” but they don’t have the massive resources and direct access to the most valuable data available that Google has (for instance, my own Rice Universities Connexions project has addressed exactly the issues Google claims that no one else has addressed). But for most net observers, anyone who says “we did that before google did” is just sour grapes… and in an era and an environment in which the intellectual property system is so drastically and so completely broken, it’s impossible to use IP rights to adjudicate who might actually deserve recognition for an idea. The best you can do is assume that if they are 1) bought by Google or 2) bought by Microsoft, they must have had a good idea, and some good lawyers. So I’m not sure how I feel about the new frontier; on the one hand, I, for one, welcome our new knowledge-ecology overlords, on the other hand, it feels to me like we’re on a primrose path towards the Wal-Martization of the Internet, with candy rainbow-colored everything. Or maybe I should just take the blue pill, and stay here, forever.