Google on Wednesday launched Knol, a collaborative reference site. It's similar in concept to Wikipedia, except that Knol allows its authors to generate income from the articles they've authored.
"The Web contains vast amounts of information, but not everything worth knowing is on the Web," said Cedric Dupont, a Google product manager and Michael McNally, a Google software engineer, in a blog post. "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."
Knol's means of encouragement is Google's AdSense program. At authors of Knols -- otherwise known as articles -- may, if they dislike toiling on Google's behalf for free, include ads from Google's AdSense program alongside their contributed content, which can be words or images.
Thus, popular Knols promise to generate income. Given that Google advertisers pay more to run ads alongside content associated with high-priced products and services, expect to see a lot of Knols about medical conditions and other topics associated with expensive search keywords.
Google may be able to avoid the vandalism and spin-driven editing that has plagued Wikipedia through its name verification program.
Anyone can author a Knol, but authors also have the option of having their identities verified. Those who would appear more trustworthy to other Knol users can opt to be verified by phone number or credit card. Verified Knol users can display a badge indicating that they've been vetted by Google's automated system.
Such schemes are seldom foolproof, however, and it may not be long before spammers have found a way to game the system.
How Is Knol Different From Wikipedia?
Knol differs from Wikipedia in that each Knol has a designated author. That author may have collaborators, but all payments go to the primary author. If there's any revenue division to be done, that's left to team members to sort out.
Knol's collaboration model is also more hierarchical than Wikipedia's. Article collaborators can suggest changes but cannot make them without the author's approval. While this authorial bottleneck may lead to Knol being less timely than Wikipedia, which often reflects breaking news minutes after events occur, it should prevent the revision wars that plague controversial Wikipedia articles.
What may emerge instead, however, is competing articles on the same subject. If that happens, expect efforts to game Knol's article rating system.
It is of course possible that Knol's version of Wikipedia with incentives won't fly. It may be that Wikipedia's vulnerability to abuse makes people see the site as a kicked puppy, as something they'll go out of their way to take care of.