July 30 2008 / by John Heylin
Category: The Web Year: General Rating: 6 Hot
The internet community is abuzz with the latest Google gossip. No, not the prediction that they’ll make their Gmail storage space unlimited for their upcoming anniversary. And no, not Cuil, the latest search engine designed by former Google employees which professes to kill Google (so far, all they’ve managed to do is crash their server over and over). The real news is the release of Google Knol, a social media site that will possibly siphon large amounts of traffic away from information powerhouse Wikipedia.
Knol is, much like Wikipedia, a place on the Internet to share information for free in article form. The key difference is that whereas Wikipedia has articles written and edited by anyone who visits the site, Knol has articles written by industry professionals. In the words of Cedric Dupont on the Google Blog, “Knols are authoritative articles about specific topics, written by people who know about those subjects.” In other words, an article about hearts is written by a cardiologist, not the mass public. Although still in Beta testing, Knol has already published hundreds of articles from astronomers, doctors, chefs, professors, and even linguists. Google is even trying to coin the word knol into Internet vocabulary, defining it as a “unit of knowledge”.
Another interesting feature of Knol is that authors are allowed, and indeed encouraged, to claim their writing as their own legal property. Furthermore, this means these authors can choose to receive revenue from their content by placing Google ads on the articles’ landing page. Google writes “If an author chooses to include ads, Google will provide the author with a revenue share from the proceeds of those ad placements.” An interesting incentive for writers, but so far most of the articles have no ads. Possibly in keeping with the freedom of Wikipedia, most authors might not want their work tainted by gross auto-generated ads.
Building on the claim of sole authorship, writers can also choose to allow moderated changes to their submissions if they so want. “Any reader can make suggested edits to a knol which the author may then choose to accept, reject, or modify before these contributions become visible to the public.” One of the major criticisms of Wikipedia is the fact that anonymous users can alter any article no matter what their expertise – groups have even been caught altering political articles in order to show a person or cause in a more favorable light. At Knol, the author of the piece has the option of accepting or denying the changes, thereby maintaining information quality and accuracy.
Wikipedia may not be perfect, but in reality it’s still an incredibly valuable tool (not to mention it’s the seventh most-visited site in the world). For all its flaws, it still gets the job done and gets it done well. Knol may try to take a huge bite of the Wikipedia traffic (some are fearing Google might tweak their search engine to display Knol over Wikipedia in searches), but in the meantime it will probably just nibble a bit. And as for the upcoming years? We’ll just have to see if quality and trust will make an impact on people’s choices. But hey, even the Encyclopedia Britannica has errors.
Image: Mark Kelley (Flickr,CC-Attribution)