The faint buzzing I heard while I was working in the warehouse last week became a full blown roar when I came home, fired up my e-mail, and saw Google’s blog entry on its new project, knol.
Google has invited a group of people (I was not one of them) to try a new free tool called “knol” — knol meaning a unit of knowledge (apologies in advance if I spell it “knowl”). From the blog post: “Our goal is to encourage people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it.” Like Wikipedia, I guess, without the openness. Like About.com, I guess, only more open.
Ah: “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.” You know, if you do a general search on Google now, you’ll often find a Wikipedia entry as one of the first results on Google. So is Google trying to supplant this? Is this a preemptive strike against Wikia?
“Google will provide easy-to-use tools for writing, editing, and so on, and it will provide free hosting of the content. Writers only need to write; we’ll do the rest.”
When I read that paragraph I got angry so quickly that I had to sit there and catch up. Why was I so mad? I asked my brain and my brain spluttered for a minute and then started up:
“Because Google already HAS a place where it freely hosts content! It’s called Blogspot! It’s a mess! It’s full of splogs! What good is it going to do to have another train wreck like that? It just adulterates search results!”
My brain went on for a while like that (I had no idea it was so angry about Blogspot.) I tried to argue about it, pointing out that there was also a great deal of good content on Blogspot and Blogger, but my brain just wasn’t having it. I had no idea it was so angry about splogs.
(Later I asked my brain that if I was arguing with it, what was it that was doing the arguing if my brain was already otherwise involved. “Don’t ask me,” said my brain. “This is your existential Christmas Eve blog post. Pass the eggnog.”)
Google’s blog post goes on: “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.” So there’s more community than there is with something like Blogspot.
And there may be money: “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.” It would be nice to know the difference between payout here and something like AdSense.
Once the knol system is opened, sez Google, the search engine will both rank the pages based on quality (and not give automatic high ratings because it’s Google content.) Furthermore, the knol content will be indexable by all search engines (but not, it appears, downloadable like Wikipedia.)
If you want to see what a knol looks like, there’s an example screen shot at http://www.google.com/help/knol_screenshot.html. There’s a little bit about Knol in Google Code, but it doesn’t look like there’s much there besides the blog post.
Oh, I don’t know how I feel about this. I’m not wowed. I can think of a scenario where it really would have wow’d me, however. Here it is:
Take the somewhat moribund Open Directory Project. Use THAT as the root of your knol project. Instead of giving a topic to one expert, take a page of links from the ODP and invite those Web wranglers just to write the knols and populate the ODP links page. The wranglers from the new content can also be invited to create knols, add links to the ODP pages, etc etc etc. Put both knols and links on the ODP page.
Presto: you have a pre-created structure for both inviting people to create knols, to browse knols (instead of relying solely on searching), and you’re keeping the ODP fresh.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go ask my brain what the heck.