Google’s Answer to Wikipedia Now Live

Last Decem­ber, Google announced that it was test­ing a new con­tent ini­tia­tive — dubbed “Knol” — intend­ed to rival Wikipedia. The fruits of their labor are now live (in beta), avail­able for all to see.

As we men­tioned in our ini­tial piece, Knol caters to the indi­vid­ual author/expert, not to the wis­dom of crowds (à la Wikipedia). Each ency­clo­pe­dia entry is gen­er­al­ly writ­ten, edit­ed, and revised by one indi­vid­ual. The author reigns supreme here. But that does­n’t mean that Wikipedi­a’s col­lab­o­ra­tive approach is being entire­ly aban­doned.

Google’s mod­el leaves ample room for col­lab­o­ra­tive writ­ing. It keeps open the pos­si­bil­i­ty that mul­ti­ple authors will write an ency­clo­pe­dia entry. And, they allow for “mod­er­at­ed col­lab­o­ra­tion” — mean­ing that “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.” Col­lab­o­ra­tion is built into Google’s mod­el. It’s just not tak­en to an extreme con­clu­sion. (Get more info on the posi­tion­ing of Knol here.)

Knol is not the only con­tent plat­form try­ing to strike a bal­ance between the author and mass col­lab­o­ra­tion. In June, Ency­clo­pe­dia Bri­tan­ni­ca launched a beta of a new online ency­clo­pe­dia that takes “a col­lab­o­ra­tive-but-not-demo­c­ra­t­ic approach” to pro­duc­ing knowl­edge. Users can make con­tri­bu­tions to a grow­ing store­house of knowl­edge. But whether these con­tri­bu­tions get accept­ed remains up to the experts and edi­tors. (“At the new Bri­tan­ni­ca site, we will wel­come and facil­i­tate the increased par­tic­i­pa­tion of our con­trib­u­tors, schol­ars, and reg­u­lar users, but we will con­tin­ue to accept all respon­si­bil­i­ty of what we write under our name. We are not abdi­cat­ing our respon­si­bil­i­ty as pub­lish­ers or bury­ing it under the now-fash­ion­able “wis­dom of the crowds.”)

I have lit­tle doubt that the Google and Bri­tan­ni­ca mod­els will gen­er­ate some sol­id ency­clo­pe­dia entries. That’s a safe bet. But whether these ency­clo­pe­dias will ever become as com­pre­hen­sive as Wikipedia, or as wide­ly used, is anoth­er ques­tion. And the same holds true for whether the con­tent will gen­er­al­ly be qual­i­ta­tive­ly bet­ter than what Wikipedia has to offer. When Google first announced Knol last Decem­ber, I voiced my doubts. Now that the rub­ber is final­ly hit­ting the road, we can see whether my skep­ti­cism is war­rant­ed (or not).

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