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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Google's knols square off against Wikipedia

This is interesting. Google has started inviting experts to write authoritative articles, called knols (units of knowledge), in an initiative destined to go head to head with Wikipedia.

Of particular interest for journalists is an emphasis on the article's author - whose picture and bio will be prominently displayed, as you can see in this example:

Knowing who wrote an article will in many cases make it an acceptable, attributable information source - something inherently problematic with Wikipedia, whose articles have multiple authors, none of whom are prominently displayed.

In addition, the author retains editorial control over the knol - others can suggest edits but only the author can make them. Google will not take any editorial role.

Authors can choose to run ads on the knol and take a share of the revenue - which again separates the project from Wikipedia where all authors contribute for free.

Google's Udi Mander, VP of Engineering, says "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. We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of web content.

"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."

Not all knols will be equal once they're opened up to all-comers, of course, but those created by reputable authors - industry experts, academics and so on - will no doubt quickly prove useful.

Whether it will exacerbate the existing trend towards 'Google' journalism - story research done online with nary a phone call to check facts and get supporting quotes - remains to be seen.

There's plenty of chatter about the impact on Wikipedia and whether the project's a step too far on Google's part. Duncan Riley's post on Tech Crunch is as good a place to start as any.