The hackers of old have long held that data must be set free. Google is doing just that by aggregating the content of the internet, it no longer mattes where information comes from. When people are questioned afterward regarding the source of the information they are reciting, they respond: Google.
The problem, of course, is that the information can be half baked (see the myriad of urban legends that I still get forwarded to me) and there is a lack of financial incentive to provide generic information.
However, as you provide an increasingly compelling set of data, you can make money on advertising (one of the ways information providers monetize the attention they are receiving). For instance, if you have a medical question, I might just go immediately to webmd instead of googling for it. Interestingly, Google makes it’s money from advertising both on it’s pages as well as on the pages of the information it is aggregating. This is one way information providers can get paid for the information they provide, but they are in desperate competition with passionate hobbyists and verbose bloggers who would willingly provide the information for free.
Like most of the changes that are occurring with the new abundance of information and distribution, anyone can contribute, which allows those who simply have a passion for sharing to do so, for free, but if they make their data remarkable enough, they can certainly be paid to provide it.
[Side note: Jeff Jarvis’ “What Would Google Do” is a good book that challenges the normal way people are perceiving the changes that the internet is truly causing and I recommend it]