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12/19/2007
12:00 AM
Irwin Lazar
Irwin Lazar
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Googles's 'Knol': A new twist on group knowledge

This week Google announced plans for the “knoll project”, a site designed to allow individuals to share the knowledge they possess on a particular topic.  A “knoll” in Google-speak is a unit of knowledge.  But as Google moves forward with this plan, it begs the question “don’t we already have Wikipedia?”

Google’s tool differs from Wikipedia in a few key areas.  First, contributions are by invitation only (at least for now).  Google hopes that those with specific expertise in a particular area will contribute a written article sharing their knowledge.  Unlike a Wiki, where a group of individuals collectively builds and maintains a data repository, knol is meant to be more of an individual effort, highlighting authors.  Google argues that assigning an author’s name to a particular document will improve credibility and help users find quality sources of information.

Google hopes to leverage the social networking community to rate, comment, on, and contribute additional information to knols, again blurring the line between the knol project and Wikipedia.  And since it’s Google, authors will be able to include ads in their knols and profit from clicks.

In my mind the problem with the Google knol project is that it starts with a centralized model and then hopes the community will help shape development.  Contrast that with Wikipedia which relies on the open community to create and police content, only stepping in when controversies or other situations warrant.  

To me, the Google knol project sounds like a management nightmare.  Who will certify that knol submissions are accurate?  Who will vet authors?   Perhaps a more accurate comparison of the Google knol project isn’t with Wikipedia, but with About.com, which offers a very similar model, using public subject matter experts to maintain data repositories for a variety of subjects.  If knol is simply reinventing what already exists, what is the point other than to draw people away from the other sites into an environment where they will be subject to Google ads?

Hmmm…will Google accept a knol on the merits of using open social communities to build information repositories versus a closed, centralized model?

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