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Probing the knowledge market

This article appears in the issue February 2008 [Volume 17, Issue 2]
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Google, according to Credit Suisse’s analyst Heath B. Terry, is a company with an advertising operating system, as reported in the firm’s Nov. 20, 2007 report, "Building Advertising’s Operating System." With Nielsen NetRatings and Web pundits pegging Google’s share of the Web search market at 50 percent or more, most people perceive Google as a Web search engine.

Those experts overlook Google’s disruptive probes into new markets. A case in point is Google’s looming presence in publishing knowledge. For now, Google’s probe is for general Web users. But integrating the new service into Google enterprise applications is trivial, not much more than flipping a bit from a zero to a one.

When Udi Manber, a Google VP of engineering, posted "Encouraging People to Contribute Knowledge to the Official Google Blog" on Dec. 13, 2007, few people took notice. That’s an oversight that knowledge managers and others will want to correct. Here’s why:

ITEM: Udi Manber is not just a Google engineer, he’s one of Google’s super-engineers, responsible for the top-secret inner workings of Google’s software infrastructure. After a stint at Amazon, Manber snapped into the Google brain trust with responsibility for core search.He joined Vint Cerf, Jeffrey Dean, Urs Hölzle, Peter Norvig and Sanjay Ghemawat in enhancing Google’s next-generation application platform.His blog post (http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2007/12/encouraging-people-to-contribute.html) makes explicit Google’s publishing initiative. He writes: "We started inviting a selected group of people to try a new, free tool that we are calling ‘knol,’ which stands for a unit of knowledge. Our goal is to encourage people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it."

The system is a Google beta, standard Google operating procedure. Manber continues, "The key idea behind the knol project is to highlightauthors. Books have authors’ names right on the cover, news articles have bylines, scientific articles always have authors—but somehow the Web evolved without a strong standard to keep authors’ names highlighted. We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of Web content."

Innocuous enough.

ITEM: Now recall what Googler Scott Johnson revealed in Ann Arbor about Google’s acquisition of JotSpot. JotSpot’s technology allowed a user to create a wiki or a structured document such as a project profile. The JotSpot technology bundled authoring, content management and workflow tools accessible via a browser. According to Johnson, the JotSpot technology will be used for Google Pages. Google Sites’ technology will give way to the JotSpot system, replacing Google’s existing Web publishing system. Google’s existing hosted applications and Google’s add-in technology Gears will be supported.

Those two announcements make it clear that Google wants to tap its user base for content. Initially, the publishing platform will be a test. If the test is successful, Google will expand the program. High-traffic content or entrepreneurial authors will be able to monetize their work with Google AdSense.

Google’s software shares a common DNA. A programmer working to tailor JotSpot to produce Web pages can tap into other Google functionality with little effort, confident that what runs in Google will stay in Google.

But people are not always online. Google Gears provides a mechanism to use, at some point, Google applications like Gmail and knol offline. Although the capability is not widely available, it’s a question of when Google will pull the trigger. Google Gears is software that enables offline access to Web services that normally require to be online. That is accomplished with the installation of a small database and server, which caches and displays data locally until the user gets back online, and the data are synchronized.

There are also Google Gadgets, "mini-applications" that can be placed either on a user’s desktop (via Google Desktop), or on a user’s iGoogle Web page (Personalized Google). Those are typically things like weather forecasts, RSS readers, e-mail previewers, league scoreboards or photo slideshows. Google offers an SDK to assist in their creation. Users can explore those by navigating to google.com/ig, setting up an account and crafting what looks like a Yahoo-style personalized page—almost. The "almost" is important because the functions are available in what Google calls containers. Each container is a virtual machine, and this Google invention supports wide functionality. See, for example, US20070136320, "Remote Module Incorporation into a Container Document."

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