Google’s Knol – Attack of a Clone

Google is at it again. This past week the search engine company announced its Project Knol, yet another clone of Wikipedia’s user-generated knowledge database.

According to Google a “knol” is a “unit of knowledge”. Sounds very similar to a “wiki”. Also according to Google, the main difference between Knol and other collaborative content sites is that this one will put more focus on the author.

Here is the party line straight from the official Google blog.

Knols will include strong community tools. People will be able to submit comments, questions, edits, additional content, and so on. Anyone will be able to rate a knol or write a review of it. Knols will also include references and links to additional information. At the discretion of the author, a knol may include ads. If an author chooses to include ads, Google will provide the author with substantial revenue share from the proceeds of those ads.

Our goal is to encourage people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it.

From the sounds of it, Knol will offer everything that Wikipedia currently offers but will allow for the inclusion of ads at the authors discretion. I think the idea of revenue sharing is great but I must question exactly what is considered a “substantial revenue share” and what would be considered an “authoritative article”.

Other questions arise such as, “Will those who edit articles also be compensated?”, “What protections will be put in place to prevent plagiarism?”, “Will “Knol” articles eventually be given preferential positioning in SERP pages?” In regards to the last question, Google’s Udi Manber says, “Our job in Search Quality will be to rank the knols appropriately when they appear in Google search results.” If Google will be the one deciding what is considered an “appropriate” rank then any hopes of objectivity have vanished.

Wikipedia is well known for the inaccuracy of its articles and despite Google’s mention that it will allow for ratings and reviews of I doubt that the average internet user will have adequate knowledge on all of the topics they rate to make the ratings indicative of the accuracy of the information presented. Google admits the shortcomings of the system in this quote.

“Once testing is completed, participation in knols will be completely open, and we cannot expect that all of them will be of high quality.”

One more difference that I would like to highlight is that Wikipedia has set a policy that all articles be written from a “neutral point of view“. The information presented thus far seems to indicate that the Knol system will be counting on user reviews and rankings to weed out one-sided articles and propaganda.

I have to give credit to Google for trying something “new” but my initial impression is similar to when I read about Orkut and Google Talk: “Do we really need this?”

The Knol project is still in a closed, invitation-only beta and there is no telling when or if the project will be opened to the public. In the meantime feel free to read more about Google’s Knol project on this Wikipedia page.