Google launches its own Wikipedia - with a twist

Knol project will let named authors write and maintain online articles

Google last week announced plans to launch a tool it said will allow users to contribute articles for a new online encyclopedia of sorts. Unlike Wikipedia, Google's new Knol (which stands for a unit of knowledge) will include the names of authors who will maintain sole responsibility for editing the content.

"The key idea behind the Knol project is to highlight authors," wrote Udi Manber, Google's vice president of engineering in a blog post. "Books have authors' names right on the cover, news articles have bylines, scientific articles always have authors -- but somehow the web evolved without a strong standard to keep authors names highlighted. A Knol on a particular topic is meant to be the first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read."

The Knol encyclopedia is currently in an invitation-only testing phase, Google said. The goal of the project, it added, is to offer information on a wide range scientific, medical, geographical, historical, entertainment and other topics. Google will not edit Knol in any way or bless any of the content, Manber added.

"We hope that Knols will include the opinions and points of view of the authors who will put their reputation on the line," he wrote. "Anyone will be free to write. For many topics, there will likely be competing Knols on the same subject. Competition of ideas is a good thing. Once testing is completed, participation in Knol will be completely open, and we cannot expect that all of them will be of high quality."

If an author agrees to include advertisements in his or her Knol, Google will provide "substantial revenue share" from those ads, Manber added. Knol will also include Web 2.0 tools to allow users to submit comments, questions, edits and additional content, Google added.

Philipp Lenssen, a blogger at Google Blogoscoped, noted that Knol does not seem to take after Wikipedia's strategy of using multiple authors for its pages. "This could become a problem with Knol, too: if a single author takes the lead, and all edits must go through that person, the article may not end up as fact-checked and up-to-date as a Wikipedia counterpart may," he wrote.

However, he noted that the Knol strategy does call for offering incentives to authors for articles in terms of recognition and money, two areas where Wikipedia is lacking.

"At this time, Wikipedia's editing tools for instance are somewhat cluttered and don't have the best usability," Lenssen wrote. "If Google takes away experts from Wikipedia because they provide easier tools, then maybe" Wikipedia will be forced to offer the same thing.

In addition, Lenssen also noted that while Google claims it will not be moderating the content, past Google projects like Page Creator, Blogger or Google Groups all have a policy not allowing certain types of content.

Stan Schroeder, a blogger at Mashable, added that he understand the motivation behind Knol. "You look at the Web and see zillions of blogs, tweets, tumblelogs, forum posts, and all these other chunks of knowledge, and you say to yourself: ...this is a mess," he wrote. "[Google has] the means to give these people a better way to write what they know."

But he questioned its novelty, noting that Knol "is just a way for people to create encyclopedic articles, but unlike Wikipedia, you can see who wrote what." "Hopefully, the articles will be written by experts, but Google will not enforce it, so basically anyone can contribute. The question you need to ask yourself is: would Wikipedia be better if you were able to see the name and picture of the author in every article?"

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Heather Havenstein

Computerworld

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