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Is Google A Media Company?

The New York Times asks the old, familiar question of whether Google is a media company. The paper's answer, an emphatic "maybe," hinges on its interpretation of the search giant's new encyclopedia service, Knol, a Web site where experts publish (and profit from) their knowledge on a variety of topics. Knol is a direct competitor to Wikipedia, which is ad-free, collectively edited, and happens to be one of the most widely used sites on the Web. Knol, by comparison, is limited to experts who give bylines to their articles and retain editing control over the content. They also choose where to place ads, which, of course, are sold by Google.

Even without Knol, Google already owns and controls YouTube and Blogger, one of the Web's largest blog networks, both of which subsist on ad revenue. Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia's co-CEO Wenda Harris Millard points out that there are problems with owning services that people search for: Does Google favor YouTube over other video sites? Will it favor Knol over Wikipedia? "The question in people's minds is how unbiased can Google be as it grows and grows and grows," Millard said.

Google, of course, claims it would never compromise the fairness of its natural search results. "When you see Knol pages rank high, they are there because they have earned their position," says Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker. Stricker said that like YouTube and Blogger, Knol is merely a tool for others to create and publish information. Once they do, "our job, which is to organize that information, kicks in," he said, adding Google's doesn't own copyrights to any of the content on Knol

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