Much to the chagrin of teachers and librarians, Wikipedia has become a primary source of research and information for many seeking answers to questions with just a few quick key presses and mouse clicks. Since its debut in 2001, Wikipedia has outgrown other objective informational sites, such as About.com and Encyclopedia Britannica Online Encyclopedia.
Now Internet bellwether, Google, is looking to compete with Wikipedia for the hearts and minds of online information seekers with its new product, Knol
. Google defines a Knol as "a unit of knowledge
" and "Knols are authoritative articles about specific topics, written by people who know about those subjects
." Curiously, we could find no reference of Google calling Knol as an "encyclopedia." While Knol might act like one in some fashion, Google appears to be careful not to outright classify it as such.
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Google first launched Knol last December
, initially inviting only a select group of individuals to make contributions. Based on the articles that are presently available, it would appear that the initial group of authors was filled primarily with health experts. Yesterday, Google announced that Knol is now available for everyone to start making contributions on any topic (subject to Google's Terms of Service and Content Policy). In yesterday's announcement, the Knol philosophy was explained this way:"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.
The key principle behind Knol is authorship. Every knol will have an author (or group of authors) who put their name behind their content. It's their knol, their voice, their opinion. We expect that there will be multiple knols on the same subject, and we think that is good."
The primary difference between Knol and Wikipedia is one of authorship transparency. Wikipedia articles can be edited by almost anyone and can be done so anonymously. In fact, Wikipedia's own entry on Wikipedia
has this to say:"Critics of Wikipedia target its systemic bias and inconsistencies and its policy of favoring consensus over credentials in its editorial process. Wikipedia's reliability and accuracy are also an issue. Other criticisms are centered on its susceptibility to vandalism and the addition of spurious or unverified information."
Knol's approach is to not only to mention who the authors are, but to highlight the authors as subject-matter experts. When an author creates an entry, the author has sole control over who else--if anyone--can make changes to the entry. If other authors want to make contributions about a preexisting topic, they can send suggestions to the Knol's author or create a new entry on that same topic. For popular or controversial topics, expect there to be multiple entries.
To help motivate authors to make contributions on Knol, Google is letting authors include ads from Google's AdSense program on their Knol pages. Google will share the ad revenue proceeds with the authors.
As of now, there are not many entries, and the vast majority of the entries that are there are health related. To get an idea of what a Knol looks like and to see how it stacks up against existing, objective informational sites, here are links to the same topic, Type 1 Diabetes, from several sites:Type 1 Diabetes entries:
Google is still calling Knol a "beta
." It is also way too early to estimate how popular Knol will be and if it can even compete with Wikipedia, let alone one day supplant it and be the new king of the knoll. Google does seem to have a way with gaining footholds with many of its products, though. After all, the word "Google" has made its way into the Merriam-Webster Dictionary
. Perhaps one day so will "Knol."