A new Google service, dubbed knol, will invite “people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it”, Udi Manber, a Google engineer, said.
Like Wikipedia, articles in knol (the name derives from “knowledge”) will be free to read online. In a departure from the nonprofit Wikipedia model, however, knol’s authors will be able to attach advertising to their work and take a share of revenues.“The goal is for knols [individual articles] to cover all topics, from scientific concepts to entertainment,” Mr Manber said.
Google, which says that it exists “to organise the world’s information and make it universally useful and accessible”, suggested that knol was designed to stamp out the malicious entries that have blighted Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia that “anybody can edit”.
“We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of web content,” Google said. The company noted that it “will not serve as an editor in any way and will not bless any content. All editorial responsibilities and control will rest with the authors.” Contributors will retain the copyright to their submissions.
However, as well as being ranked by readers, content will be ranked by the Google search engine, which will be the most important access point to the site. Mr Manber said: “A knol is meant to be the first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read.”
Jimmy Wales, the Wikipedia founder, who recently launched a rival search engine to Google’s, questioned whether knol would be able to generate enough “quality content”. He also suggested that knol articles would lack balance. “They are not going to allow collaboration and aren’t going to go for Wikipedia’s neutral style,” he said.
Where Wikipedia promotes collaboration between authors, knol looks set to foster rivalry. Contributors to knol will not be able to contribute anonymously and will not be able to edit each other’s work, two defining characteristics of Wikipedia. Whereas on Wikipedia, readers find only one entry on, say, the First World War, on knol authors will submit separate pieces that will compete for advertising dollars.Some thoughts/ questions:
- How and by whom will the knol topics be chosen and, as will often be necessary (eg the First World War), how will they be broken down into sub-topics?
- Who will invite whom to write knols and what selection criteria will be used?
- What processes will there be for editing and updating?
- Will Google, as it does with its other services, yield to pressure from countries such as China and block/ edit/ filter/ censor knols?
Declaration: I'm a contributor to Wikipedia and support the concept despite being from time to time exasperated by poor expression, errors and, surprisingly for such a voluminous project, omissions.