Google kicks Wikipedia in the googlies

Move over, Jimbo - we're in the content biz now


Whatever you think about the kooks at Wikipedia - the crazed Goths banning chunks of Utah, a COO prone to drunken rampages and embezzlement, and a Roi Soleil answering to himself - one thing is in no doubt. The project has saved Google's original business.

Two years ago, the advertising giant's search engine was fighting a losing battle against spam. A perfect storm of ruthlessly effective SEO and wittering blogtards meant that Google's search engine was being swamped by noise - or "Goobage", as some call it.

This had spawned a black economy of "private label articles", gibberish text that's cut and pasted together by human editors. This provided the raw material for software bots that could create and populate 24 blogs a minute. Google had examined, but then flunked the chance to remove blogs from its main index five years ago.

As a result, almost one third of Google's index is created by software robots - but Google doesn't know which third.

Then Google had a brainwave. Realizing that few searchers explore beyond the top three results, it decided to give a powerful boost to Wikipedia. Nevermind the 6 billion junk pages - Google need only ensure users clicked on the two million Wikipedia entries. As a consequence, Wikipedia entries rose to the top of the rankings. During 2006, Wikipedia entries eclipsed all others, and typically feature in the top three SERPs, or the top search result.

The human cost of this is has indeed been high. Maintaining the Wikipedia entries even in their current, advanced state of entropy entails running a virtual sweatshop of unpaid volunteer labour. But this is a cost borne by Wikipedia, not Google, which gets a more "relevant" search engine for free.

So how does Google express it's gratitude to the Wikipedians? By kicking them when they're down.

GPedia: Get Fiddling!

Google is starting a Wikipedia of its own: surely signalling an end to Jimbo's globe-trotting Imperial Adventure, and marking an ominous move into the business of content production that will have publishers everywhere a little more worried this weekend.

The news was announced by Google's VP of engineering Udi Manber yesterday evening, in a post entitled Encouraging people to contribute knowledge.

(Out on Planet Google, "facts" and "knowledge" run seamlessly into each other - as easily as "knowledge" runs into "wisdom"!)

Google calls the wiki software behind its 'Pedia "Knols", and Manber says it's explicitly designed to show up as the first entry on Google's search results pages. In Manber's words, it's "... meant to be the first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read."

"Google will not serve as an editor in any way," explains Manber, adding in a strange turn of phrase, "and will not bless any content."

But what else is a "blessing", other than the assurance that a page will appear prominently at the top of the search results. Google already gives its own properties, such as Blogger and Orkut, a higher Page Rank rating.

Google will of course run advertisments on GPedia, and give the author a share of the revenue from these ads. (Cue a mad scramble to write the "Britney" entry, or anything to do with sex) Manber says Google will give away the content created to other search engines - but it isn't yet clear whether the author sees any revenue from downstream licensing. (Remember this is still Sweatshop 2.0).

Manber does seem vaguely aware, however, that imitating Wikipedia will cause Wikipedia-related problems.

The Wiki "democracy" - where the public votes for the truth - is now little more than a flimsy cover story used for its fund-raising efforts. Topics are now tightly controlled by a 14-year-old you've never heard of, who has risen to the top of the social backstabbing by seeing off rival "editors", by forming cliques and drinking huge amounts of Red Bull. This is truly survival of the fittest.

"Participation in knols will be completely open, and we cannot expect that all of them will be of high quality," he writes.

(Er, yes indeed. Give this man a pay rise, Larry.)

So just like a modern supermarket, then, Google is moving into the content sourcing as well as distribution business. Much of its defence against copyright holders (such as newspapers) is that it merely provides a service to point to their content. Now it's doing its own.

(And now we know why Google has never given much favour to Encyclopedia Britannica, which has tens of thousands of link-rich entries browsable for free.)

Whether you view this as a resounding vote of no confidence in the Wikipedia project, or simply as a landgrab for text advertising, the outcome may well be the same: accelerating Wikipedia's plans to go commercial.

Read Manber's explanation here and a picture of the ideal GPedia entry here. Have a mull, and let me know what you think.

Perhaps we can think of it as 2.0 update of Marx's view of history, in which tragedy is repeated as farce. When farcical history repeats itself, it comes with text ads? ®


Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022