July 24, 2008
Google's Wikipedia Rival, Knol, Now Online
Fans and detractors of Wikipedia take note. Google's Knol, a Wikipedia-like online encyclopedia of authoritative articles (called "knols" by Google to refer to "units of knowledge") is now online. Last December, Udi Manber, VP Engineering, explained the project in his Encouraging people to contribute knowledge post on Google Blog:
The key idea behind the knol project is to highlight authors. Books have authors' names right on the cover, news articles have bylines, scientific articles always have authors -- but somehow the web evolved without a strong standard to keep authors names highlighted. We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of web content. At the heart, a knol is just a web page; we use the word "knol" as the name of the project and as an instance of an article interchangeably. It is well-organized, nicely presented, and has a distinct look and feel, but it is still just a web page. Google will provide easy-to-use tools for writing, editing, and so on, and it will provide free hosting of the content. Writers only need to write; we'll do the rest.
A knol on a particular topic is meant to be the first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read. The goal is for knols to cover all topics, from scientific concepts, to medical information, from geographical and historical, to entertainment, from product information, to how-to-fix-it instructions. Google 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. We hope that knols will include the opinions and points of view of the authors who will put their reputation on the line. Anyone will be free to write. For many topics, there will likely be competing knols on the same subject. Competition of ideas is a good thing.
Manber's statement that "A knol on a particular topic is meant to be the first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read" has generated debate about whether Google search results can remain neutral because of a possible conflict of interest. See the Wikipedia article on Knol.
As of earlier today, there wasn't a Wikipedia article on Knol so an enterprising librarian can add writing one to his or her To Do list. Another great topic would be a research guide for using public domain legal research databases.
Librarians, Seize the Day. Being new, Knol isn't a great resource yet. See, for example, knols on Chicago-style hot dogs and buttermilk pancakes. OK, I was hungry when I surfed through Knol. There are plenty of substantive articles on more serious topics. [List of Featured Knols] but librarians can seize the moment by contributing now. (I'm thinking about writing one on Chicago-style Italian Beef sandwiches because I'm still hungry.)
There's plenty of articles and blog comments on Knol. See, for example, Google Throws Open Rival for Wikipedia — Anon Authors Discouraged by Wired's Steven Levy. [JH]
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