Wikipedia vs. the World

They're coming after you, Wikipedia.

With Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Knol, Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) Answers, and Answers.com's (Nasdaq: ANSW  ) WikiAnswers, the number of sites looking to cash in on the Web 2.0 movement of user-created reference content is growing exponentially.

The latest company to throw the book at Wikipedia is Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS  ) . The superstore chain launched Quamut.com last week, as yet another collection of user-scribed and reader-enhanced how-to guides.

As TechCrunch points out, spamming opportunists have already invaded Quamut, posting self-serving articles and outgoing links. That happens all the time on Wikipedia, but the site's high traffic plays perfectly into the perpetual updating by its users. In other words, spam is usually detected early enough and corrected within the community. How quickly Quamut can respond with a self-policing approach remains to be seen.

You can't blame Barnes & Noble for trying. Booksellers like Barnes & Noble and particularly Borders (NYSE: BGP  ) are struggling lately, so it makes perfect sense for them to ponder leafless content distribution. They may lack the Web smarts of an Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) to be on the forefront of an inventory-free tomorrow -- given Amazon's Kindle, on-demand printing, and other digital distribution endeavors -- but it's better to start dipping their feet in those waters so their bodies get acclimated to their chilly futures.

The real winner in all this is actually Google. Knol, Squidoo, WikiAnswers, and now Quamut all monetize their sites through the placement of relevant text ads through Google's AdSense program. Wikipedia has balked at the commercialization process, even if it means having left substantial sums of money on the table.

Google-monetized competition is great for Google if a legitimate competitor to Wikipedia emerges. Instead of a Wikipedia user who doesn't generate any sponsor leads through Google, the success of any site -- even if it's not Google's own Knol -- will be a win for Google in the wiki age.

So I wouldn't worry too much about the initial spamming at Quamut. It's actually a feather in Barnes & Noble's hat if lead-hungry spammers see the site as promising enough to deliver traffic and higher search engine rankings their way.

Barnes & Noble will get it right, creating one more threat challenging Wikipedia to stay on top of the masses while keeping its ad-free integrity intact.

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