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).