Knol: Ok, It’s Not Wikipedia. But What Is It?

The Chron­i­cle of High­er Edu­ca­tion is run­ning a new piece (where I hap­pen to get a small blurb) on Google’s Knol, ask­ing what it will mean for stu­dents and pro­fes­sors. But it also deals, at least indi­rect­ly, with anoth­er ques­tion: Is Knol real­ly intend­ed to com­pete with Wikipedia?

When the con­tent ini­tia­tive was first announced, many assumed that this was Google’s way of try­ing to dis­place Wikipedia, whose links appear first in Google search results 25% of the time. But the com­pa­ny has since made it clear that they’re not try­ing to offer anoth­er ency­clo­pe­dia. Rather, they’re sim­ply offer­ing a plat­form for experts to write about what­ev­er they know. That could include entries on Ratio­nal­ism, the stuff you’d expect to find in a tra­di­tion­al ency­clo­pe­dia. But it also includes entries on how to orga­nize your home in 15 min­utes or less, or thoughts on whether peo­ple real­ly go to heav­en when they die. You can browse the range of entries here.

This approach makes Knol at once more expan­sive than Wikipedia and more dif­fi­cult to get your arms around. By lack­ing a focus, Knol is a lit­tle slip­pery. As a read­er, you’re not sure what you’ll get at Knol (aca­d­e­m­ic con­tent? recipes? how-to arti­cles? med­ical infor­ma­tion?). And, as a poten­tial writer, you’re not sure what kind of larg­er body of infor­ma­tion you’re con­tribut­ing to — some­thing that seems impor­tant for inspir­ing mass col­lab­o­ra­tion. This is not to say that Knol won’t yield a good amount of use­ful con­tent. It prob­a­bly will. But will it all hang togeth­er, and will it all con­tribute to anoth­er jug­ger­naut Google prod­uct? Well, I’m less sure about that. If you dis­agree, feel free to make your case in the com­ments below.

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Comments (5)
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  • Jenny Reiswig says:

    I agree with your assess­ment. I think the sole author­ship ele­ment is a prob­lem. As I under­stand it, the mod­el is part­ly intend­ed to con­fer the author­i­ty that Wikipedia lacks, so that you know there is some­one behind each arti­cle. But who sets the exper­tise cri­te­ria for own­er­ship of arti­cles? The “author­i­ta­tive” ency­clo­pe­dias of the past all had exten­sive edi­to­r­i­al boards that vet­ted authors and arti­cles. I’ve looked at quite a num­ber of the med­ical knols in par­tic­u­lar, and there are many knols writ­ten by doc­tors but also knols writ­ten by lawyers and oth­er busi­ness peo­ple in what seem to me to be bare­ly-veiled attempts to gen­er­ate busi­ness. There are med­ical knols that are clear­ly biased against or in favor of alter­na­tive ther­a­pies. How­ev­er, unlike Wikipedia, there is a lack of an obvi­ous struc­ture that lets users eas­i­ly nav­i­gate around to see what oth­er knols exist on relat­ed top­ics. I still don’t quite see where Google thinks this is going to go or how it’s going to work if it does get as large as Wikipedia. I’ll be inter­est­ed to see what oth­er replies you get.

  • Dan Colman says:

    Hi Jen­ny,

    I had­n’t real­ly looked at things from this per­spec­tive. You’re right. That’s a con­cern that Google needs to take seri­ous­ly. The line between knowl­edge and PR is one that should­n’t be crossed. And, in fact, Stan­ford’s med­ical school just imple­ment­ed a reg­u­la­tion that pre­vents cor­po­ra­tions (read: med­ical com­pa­nies) from con­tribut­ing mon­ey to con­tin­u­ing med­ical edu­ca­tion. Think it hap­pened just last week. Here’s the sto­ry:

    Thanks for the thoughts,

  • I for one think that the Knol project is aimed more as a first point online learn­ing plat­form not just an infor­ma­tion source. We start with units of knowl­edge and from there cus­tom build course­ware to as an online learn­ing plat­form. Once enough crit­i­cal mass of ‘units’ have been writ­ten, a new learn­ing com­pil­er could be placed over the top cre­at­ing a course using the course author’s pref­er­ence of units. See my know about the future of edu­ca­tion and the place that the knol project will play in it.

  • Jason Shick says:

    I’m won­der­ing what it means for some­body with a blog? I spend a lit­tle time sub­mit­ting arti­cles for web­sites such as ezine arti­cles, but is Knol sim­i­lar to ezine or is it a dif­fer­ent con­cept alto­geth­er? I’ve only just heard of it today, so I sup­pose I need to check it out.

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