Four Things You Need To Know About Knol

Recently Google mentioned that 100,000 different articles have been posted to Google Knol. I’ve been meaning to talk about Google Knol for a while, because there’s a few things you need to know. It seemed especially relevant after I saw the Silicon Alley Insider article about Knol on Techmeme, so I figured that I would weigh in.

Google Knol does not receive any sort of boost or advantage in Google’s rankings. When Knol launched, some people asked questions about this. I dutifully trundled around the web and said that Knol would not receive any special benefits in our scoring/ranking for search. With the benefit of six months’ worth of hindsight, I hope everyone can agree that Knol doesn’t get some special boost or advantage in Google’s rankings.

In my opinion, Knol is doing just fine. It’s weird that in just a few months, the conventional wisdom can change from “Google will give Knol unfair boosts in ranking; it will dominate the space!” to “Oh, Knol gets so little traffic that it’s not a success.” The rapid change in perception gives me a little bit philosophical whiplash. :) The fact is that neither of these perceptions is true. Mashable made a point that “it took Wikipedia almost two years to reach a similar number of pages.”

The Knol team is not standing still. Some of the ways I’ve learned to estimate whether a team will be successful is how high-impact their project is, but also 1) how quickly they can iterate and 2) how they react to feedback. I consider the Google Chrome team very successful, for example. They roll out a new version of Chrome about once a week, and I see them pay attention and prioritize based on feedback. In the same way, you probably haven’t noticed it, but the Knol team has been steadily delivering new releases over the last six months. Knol has more polish, more features, and the team has listened to the outside world when they plan what to work on next.

My personal conception of Knol is that when you want to write a quick article or put some information on the web, Knol is a great place to do it. If you already have a blog, you could always stuff the info on your blog. But a ton of people occasionally want to post some info but don’t have or want a blog. Imagine if you’ve searched the web for some piece of info and didn’t find exactly what you wanted (maybe there isn’t any good content about using red widget A with blue operating system B). By the time you’ve finished searching, you might be an expert about that micro-niche. That’s a perfect time to document what you’ve learned, and if you want an easy place to store that info, Knol can serve that need.

Detecting Googlebombs

I recently did a Googlebomb post over on the Google Public Policy Blog. I’ve talked about Googlebomb phenomenon before (also see more Googlebomb background here). Just as a reminder, a Googlebomb is a prank where a group of people on the web try to push someone else’s site to rank for a query that it didn’t intend to (and normally wouldn’t want to) rank for. Typically these queries tend to be unusual phrases such as “talentless hack” that don’t really have any existing strong results.

Danny Sullivan asked a good question in this most recent round of coverage about Googlebombs:

Obama no longer ranks for “failure” on Google. The White House hasn’t changed anything. The link data that Google has been using to rank the Bush page — data inherited by Obama’s page — hasn’t changed. So the Googlebomb fix for this that hasn’t worked since earlier this month just happens to kick in a few hours after I post this article? That’s going to kick off another round of questioning over how “automated” that fix really is…

I wanted to address that question. The short answer is that we do two different things — both of them algorithmic — to handle Googlebombs: detect Googlebombs and then mitigate their impact. The second algorithm (mitigating the impact of Googlebombs) is always running in our productionized systems. The first algorithm (detecting Googlebombs) has to process our entire web index, so in most typical cases we tend not to run that algorithm every single time we crawl new web data. I think that during 2008 we re-ran the Googlebomb detection algorithm 5-6 times, for example. You can think of it like this:

Googlebomb or linkbomb pipeline

The defusing algorithm is running all the time, but the algorithm to detect Googlebombs is only run occasionally. We re-ran our algorithm last week and it detected both the [failure] and the [cheerful achievement] Googlebombs, so our system now minimizes the impact of those Googlebombs. Instead of a whitehouse.gov url, you now see discussion and commentary about those queries.

How Not To Launch A Twitter Account

Recently someone registered a Twitter account name “mattcuttsmapxl,” which is very similar to my Twitter account name. The account was following many of the same people I follow, which is pretty annoying because people had to check whether it was me or not (it wasn’t). The account got suspended, but someone made a new account to claim that the “mattcuttsmapxl” wasn’t spam:

I am not a spammer!

Here’s the thing: if you have to explain to everyone why you’re not a spammer, you’re doing it wrong. It’s this sort of thing that can give a field a bad name. If everyone is mad at you because you’re abusing the trust within a community, that’s uncool. And if you’re in it for the long-term, it’s better to earn a reputation on your own. That seems easier.

In DC for the inauguration

My wife and I decided to head to Washington D.C. for the inauguration, and I’m already glad that I did. On the way out of a party, I spotted Minnesota Senator-elect Al Franken (Update: he’s not a Senator-elect yet, as the results haven’t been certified). Someone asked him to do a short “Hi kids, stay in school” video message for a classroom in Florida. A lady was telling him his car had arrived, and he said told her to wait just a while because this was for a teacher. Then he told the kids to study hard.

For Christmas I got a Flip MinoHD and I’ve been carrying it around in my pocket in case anything worthy of video happened to me. So I whipped out my Flip and got Al Franken in video. Franken was in public and recording a message to inspire kids to study, so I really don’t think he’ll mind if I post it here:

Al Franken: if you do mind, let me know and I’ll take the video down. It was just a nice coincidence given that I’d been in D.C. for maybe two hours before seeing my first senator. Oh, and that’s not even counting how I saw Barack Obama after I landed at the airport:

Matt Cutts and Barack Obama

I’ll be in D.C. for a few days, so if folks could avoid emailing me this coming week, that would be appreciated. :)

Talking to a Wiimote in Ubuntu 8.10

To add Wiimote support on Ubuntu 8.10, start by running the command “sudo apt-get install wminput wmgui lswm” to install the CWiid library and associated software.

If you’re using a desktop machine, you probably don’t have Bluetooth capability. If you run the program “lswm” and see the message “No Bluetooth interface found” then you need to get a Bluetooth adapter, which is a dongle that uses a USB port to add Bluetooth abilities. I bought the IOGear GBU421 because it seems to be well-supported in Linux and only costs about $20. It’s also so tiny that it’s cute. It looks like this:

IO Gear GBU 421

I told you it was cute. :) Now put your Wiimote in discoverable mode by pressing the 1+2 buttons at the same time and then within 15-20 seconds, run “lswm” again and you’ll get a Bluetooth identifier back:

lswm
Put Wiimotes in discoverable mode now (press 1+2)…
00:17:AB:2A:3C:BD

Congrats, your Linux machine can see the Wiimote! Now run the “wmgui” program to get a very nice user interface that will show you the sensor readings on your Wiimote:

wmgui with a Wiimote

That’s really all there is to it. Once your Ubuntu machine can see the Wiimote, you can do all sorts of tricks with it. You could do head tracking, camera tracking, control MythTV with it, etc. Linux/Ubuntu 8.10 handles the IOGear GBU421 plus a Wiimote really well.

Update: I made a video of using a Wii mote with Ubuntu if you’d like to watch:

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