While the beta testing seems never to end at Google — Gmail is still in beta well past age 4 — the world’s largest search engine and advertising machine has released to the public a new knowledge base called “Knol.” A “knol,” according to Google, is a unit of knowledge.
More specifically, Google says Knols are authoritative articles about specific topics, written by people who know about those subjects. The company first announced Knol late last year, and instead of populating its databases with articles from everyone, Google kept Knol an invitation-only party — until now.
Calling All Authors
Like Wikipedia, Google’s Knol is an attempt to harness the vast forests of knowledge trapped inside people’s heads and make it more widely available via the Web. Rather than the often anonymous group effort that makes up a Wikipedia article entry, Knol seeks to pull out that knowledge primarily from one specific head.
“The key principle behind Knol is authorship,” said Google employees Cedric Dupont and Michael McNally.
“Every knol will have an author (or group of authors) who put their name behind their content. It’s their knol, their voice, their opinion. We expect that there will be multiple knols on the same subject, and we think that is good,” they said.
Authors, Together – Or Not
While Google intends to push the author as expert, the company isn’t going to ignore the wisdom of the masses. With “moderated collaboration,” any reader can make suggested edits to a knol, and the author can choose to accept, reject or modify the suggestions and remain in control of the content.
In addition, Knols are dynamic — people can submit comments, rate or write a review of a knol.
“Knol will be a conversation open to everyone, not just the experts,” Paul Saffo, an independent technology forecaster, told TechNewsWorld.
“It’ll be entertaining, I’m sure — there’ll be UFO (unidentified flying object) nuts writing very authoritatively on their chosen subject,” he added.
Where’s the Money?
While Wikipedia and Knol share some attributes, Google is a business, so where’s the money? Authors can — at their discretion — sign up with Google’s AdSense program, let Google serve up advertisements next to their Knols, and possibly earn some revenue for sharing their knowledge.
For some authors, this might be an incentive to participate, quite possibly opening up the Web to give the world even better, more useful information. At the same time, might there might be monsters lurking in the muck. After all, if there’s money on the line, what’s to stop some guy with a PC and a garage from scouring the Web with an article generator application and using it to pump out hot-topic articles that he barely understands?
If Google isn’t going to be the moderator — or a benevolent censor — might that pretty much ruin Google’s Knol?
“Of course those are issues, but Knol is a dynamic process — just like everything else on the Web in general and with Google in particular,” Saffo explained.
“And you can see much the same thing with Wikipedia — there are some entries that seem to vibrate as people battle each other. … Once something like this is built, people will try to subvert it, and Google will try to find other ways to keep them from subverting it,” he added, noting that Google is constantly working to keep people from subverting AdSense.
In any event, it appears some authors are making use of Knol already. For example, there’s a first-person knol available right now there’s a pretty good article on how to get started backpacking. It’s complete with photos, tips for pitching a tent, how to tie knots, what to eat, and the opposite of how to eat, which is the part that’s rarely shown in the movies or on TV: how to poop in the backcountry.
As of press time, the Knol had 59 comments and a 4.9 star rating on a scale to 5. And the ads? Just one text ad — for hiking clothes.
To check out the public Google Knol beta, go here — but NOT knol.com, it turns out, which is for something different entirely …