Google To Start Publishing Knowledge?

Late last week, Google unveiled via their blog a new service currently called "Knol". Udi Manber, VP of Engineering, says that this "free tool" is based around a "'knol', which stands for a unit of knowledge." Also, "The key idea behind the knol project is to highlight authors. 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."

As a web developer, I've known this for a long time. I started publishing content on GeoCities a decade ago, and it didn't look pretty. And, not surprisingly, most who try to make their own website can't do much better. Plus, starting your own website can be a huge hurdle to get over. Google has helped make it easy to publish on the web, but their two main products are Google Pages and Blogger. Google Pages is like the web portion of .mac, where it is easy to post little personal pages to share with your friends. Blogger is more for the day-to-day bloggers and reporters, not as much for knoweldgeable, scholarly works. Both of these tools are used by persons to publish their scholarly works, but they're not the ideal method.

Therefore, it makes sense to me that Google would work to give learned people of all backgrounds a chance to let their voice be heard. With Knol, authors can get their content published easily online and their name will be featured prominently with the article. The knol is published on a professional-looking webpage without the use of any HTML, and will also allow people to comment, propose edits, and ask questions. The author may even add Google advertisements to the page and they will get a cut of the ad revenue.

This seems to me to be a natural and very worthwhile extension to Google's services. This may someday come to replace the industry journals, or at least many scholarly articles in industry journals will first pop up as a knol. Of course, because it's a Google service and because Google is taking over the world, the publishing community is trying their best to discredit the product.

Many detractors seem to believe that services such as Yahoo! Answers and the mammoth Wikipedia as well as a number of up-and-coming services are going to be competitors to Google's Knol service. Naturally, the mainstream media saw that they could put "Google" and "Wikipedia" in the same headline and got trigger-happy. For example, the New York Times wrote "Wikipedia Competitor Being Tested by Google", which I think is a very misleading headline. Knol, as it has been proposed, is a competitor to Wikipedia in that both will have knowledgeable articles, but that's about where the similarities end. Wikipedia is a publicly-editable page written in collaboration with everyone who is interested in the topic, while knols will most likely be written by one person. Google says they will not promote or edit the content in any way and the content will be owned by the author, while Wikipedia is basically free of copyright by definition. Many other writers equate Google Knol to Wikipedia despite the vast differences.

Probably the most intelligent article on the Knol service is from Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land. Sullivan, the leader of the burgeoning Search Engine Marketing/Optimization field, worries that Google will have trouble ranking knols in tandem with the rest of the content on the web. In other words, Google or other search engines may see knols as inherently better quality because it is on the Knol website. Sullivan worries that, between Knol, Wikipedia, and a couple other smaller competitors, it may be impossible for an author who has created his own website to get his content to show up in search engines. However, Google knows that the better the results, the more people will use their services and the more money they will make.

In the end, we will just have to wait to see if Google even launches Knol past the current testing phase and if it will gain momentum among the scholars of the world. It seems to me to be a solid service that will help many Internet neophytes get their name out on the web.



Dan, I like how much thought and explanation you've put into this post. Great analysis, and I now find myself looking forward more to seeing what happens with this whole Knol thing. Google continues to push the envelope, and even if they do someday become too evil, at least they will have pushed the state of the web forward. There is a great degree of reliance on them currently, but if and when they begin to falter, the value they are instilling will enable competitors to easily step into their place, with the great example they've been setting.

Merry Christmas brother!

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