Competition between Google and Wikia.com in two Information Markets

Introduction

The recent entry of Google into the online encyclopedia market (‘Knol’, announced in December 2007) and the equally bold counter move by Wikipedia’s original commercial sponsor, Wikia, Inc. into the Search engine market (‘Wikia Search’, launched on 7 January this year) signal direct mutual challenges by the two Internet giants. Whatever the eventual effects on their corporate Internet success, there are also interesting implications for millions of Internet users of these two essential types of instant online information as well as for other competitors in both of these cyber-arenas (encyclopedias and search engines).

The present study concentrates on the phenomenally successful but increasingly controversial (non-profit) Wikipedia product, whose enormous prestige is (rightfully) enjoyed by Wikia, Inc. Regardless of the outcome of the Wikia Search launch, this challenging Google ploy adds extra pressure on Wikipedia to reconsider its flawed open structure and accelerate the sorts of changes (including the recent Veropedia option) which it has already been obliged to introduce or contemplate over the past three years of intense criticism and embarrassments.

A similar study of the potential effect of Wikia’s move into the Search Engine market combined with a reassessment of Yahoo’s continuing progress in this market would also be welcome, especially to disgruntled users of Google Search. We live in interesting times.

Since the December announcement, little is on show about Knol on Google’s vast network of sites, except the display of a specimen article (www.google.com/help/knol_screenshot.html) and the promise of further articles by experts (which are apparently in preparation). Meanwhile, the Wikia camp has already displayed the first fruits of its beta version of Wikia Search (http://re.search.wikia.com), so preliminary impressions may be drawn. In spite of the instant condemnation by many professional commentators and bloggers and without offering a guarantee to this beta product, attention should be concentrated on how Wikia delivers on its promise to be “more transparent to end users”. For example, the ‘Discuss these results’ option for each search could eventually provide an alternative to those who find Google’s attitude to searchers and website owners too arcane and dictatorial. At the outset of this fascinating contest, the signs indicate that Wikia Search has the interesting potential to become the overdue selective Search Engine that many Netizens need, thereby, perhaps, having a positive influence on the bloated Search Engine Optimisation market. Any frivolous or commercial misuse by Wikia and CEO Jimmy Wales of this longstanding promise to deliver a truly discriminating Search Engine would deserve total public condemnation and flagellation by eagle-eyed Internet observers like Nicholas G. Carr.

IF Wikia fails to deliver the goods, someone else MUST take up the challenge and compound their shame.

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Since 2001, Wikipedia has established itself as the most successful online encyclopedia. It has proved to be a basically excellent primary source on factual topics. Nevertheless, the seven years of Wikipedia’s phenomenal growth (in many languages) have also been punctuated with strong and vociferous criticism, controversies, complaints and embarrassments in connection with some of the unsatisfactory results produced by its totally open Wiki format. A growing snowball of Internet, media and academic literature expresses both praise and extreme dissatisfaction.

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(The complete article (‘Internet Niche Markets. 1. Online Encyclopedias. Wikipedia and Others’) will soon be available on my web page: www.briansteel.net/writings)

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