Google launches Wikipedia competitor Knol

Google's Knol logoGoogle today launched its publicly editable encyclopedia Knol. On its blog, Google outlined its philosophy for its new online encyclopedia:

The web contains vast amounts of information, but not everything worth knowing is on the web. An enormous amount of information resides in people’s heads: millions of people know useful things and billions more could benefit from that knowledge. Knol will encourage these people to contribute their knowledge online and make it accessible to everyone.

Knol differs from Wikipedia in that edits to its articles must be approved by all the authors of the article, and the authors’ names are prominently displayed with each “knol.” Though they share similar philsophies about ordinary people sharing what they know or compiling knowledge for others to use, comparatively, Wikipedia is a masquerade ball attended by a few experts and a lot of people with spare time on their hands.

In December 2007, the Chronicle of Higher Education wondered which model would produce a better reference. They quoted Stanford University’s Dan Coleman, who believed Wikipedia would win out, since the kind of experts Google wants often don’t contribute their time to projects outside of academia. Coleman wrote:

Most fundamentally, the information generated by these “knols” will be substandard compared to what you’ll find on Wikipedia. Although the screenshot provided by Google nicely featured a Stanford University scholar writing on “Insomnia,” the reality is that few experts of this stature will take the time to contribute. Take my word for it. I’ve spent the past five years trying to get scholars from elite universities, including Stanford, to bring their ideas to the outside world, and it’s often not their first priority. They just have too many other things competing for their time.

On top of this, Coleman also wrote that Google’s rationale that Knol would make it easier to step into online writing was not true, considering that Internet publishing is more or less foolproof these days. Lastly, Coleman just didn’t think Knol was innovative enough to carve out much of a niche for itself.

People will be watching Knol very closely over the next few months to see if it takes off and to see, as some pondered, whether Knol article results will display the constantly high-placement of Wikipedia articles in Google search results. I’m left to wonder, though, whether those people watching Knol closely will also be participating in it, or will this be another one of those Web 2.0 passing fancies?


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