The Google Knol project is drawing almost universal comparison in the media to Wikipedia. That comparison works in one facet of this situation: it seems Google's goal with Knol is to take back some of the traffic that Wikipedia is getting from Google searches – and then monetize it with Google ads.
As Michael Arrington notes, the timing of the news leads to that conclusion as well, since announcing unlaunched products is not Google's style, yet they felt the need to pre-announce Knols right around the same time that Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is set to launch Search Wikia.
In structure, the project is much more similar to Seth Godin's Squidoo, since it allows users to build authority and sign their work. It also matches Squidoo in that its aim is to build content pages that rank highly in search engines.
In that respect, it's also similar to Jason Calacanis's Mahalo. Despite the insistence that Mahalo is a search engine, it's much more a directory, or even a content site along the lines of About.com. And despite Calacanis' supposed disdain for SEO, Mahalo is all about getting ranked on Google to drive traffic to its site, where it will be monetized with ads (provided by Google, at present). With Mahalo Social, launched last week, that service adds the element of authority for individual users that Google Knols brings to the mix.
The three are all putting a brave face on this:
Wales told John Battelle, "We hope that knols will include the opinions and points of view of the authors who will put their reputation on the line... Competition of ideas is a good thing." He also got in a dig at the project, saying, "Very different from a wiki, and not likely to generate much of quality."
Godin says the move legitimizes his mission with Squidoo, and goes with the "rising tide lifts all ships" hypothesis:
"That goes a long way to legitimize the original idea. It brings new users into the space. It makes it easier to find partners who want to exploit this ‘new' idea. It allows room for creativity. It's not about whether or not someone should be doing this. It's about which place they want to do it in. That's a huge change.
Just as the acquisition of blogger led to an explosion in blogging software, Google's Knol makes the space pioneered by Squidoo a lot more attractive."
Calacanis told Leo Laporte on TWiT (at 1:09:38 into the podcast) that he feels that Google's announcement is a trial balloon, to see what kind of reaction they'd get from publishers. "All the clients that Google has for their amazing ad business are going to take this the wrong way, and they're going to feel like this is over-reaching...It feels like they crossed some imaginary line in people's minds from being a platform to being a content producer."
Heather Hopkins, VP of research at Hitwise, crunched the numbers, and the results show that Wikipedia is by far the biggest of this bunch in terms of market share, getting 0.46 percent of all U.S. Internet traffic. Just over half (50.96%) of its traffic came from directly from Google.com, which accounts for 2.13 percent of Google's outbound traffic.