You know how déjà vu is? I’m feeling that today, since it’s been seven months since Google Knol was announced, and they’re just now getting around to going live. And what we said at the first announcement still looks to be true: “Google Runs Out of Content to Monetize; Wants You to Build More.”
Despite obvious similarities, Google Knol will make no claims of aiming to kill Wikipedia. In case you’ve forgotten, knols are
small hills which may or may not be a good place for a gunner’s nest “authoritative articles about specific topics, written by people who know about those subjects.”
While Google says that the “key principle behind Knol is authorship” (hence my name and face on the knol above), I’d say that, if they’re willing to vet their authors, the real principle at work here is authority. Knol authors (whom I’m sure will have a great name soon) put their name on their content (which I have to say is very unlike putting your user name and page behind every edit you make as far as claims of authority go).
Knol authors can also verify their identities through cell phone or credit card verification, enabling Google to double check with the phone/card providers to confirm your name and address.
Google is making a marked departure from the straight-wiki model, though with what they call “moderated collaboration”:
With this feature, any reader can make suggested edits to a knol which the author may then choose to accept, reject, or modify before these contributions become visible to the public. This allows authors to accept suggestions from everyone in the world while remaining in control of their content. After all, their name is associated with it!
Which is a great structural control—but doesn’t necessarily bring any of us closer to the truth, of course. But hey, I’m okay with subjectivity as long as we’ll admit it, right?
To promote the sense of community (and sociallyness!), there will be features other than free and open editing, including comments, ratings and reviews.
Duplicate content is also not a concern for Google: “We expect that there will be multiple knols on the same subject, and we think that is good.” It’s good for Google because that means they’ll have more content, more pages in their index and possibly more places to put advertising.
But, to ask search engines’ perennial spam-defining question, is it good for users? You find six—or sixteen or sixty—pages on druidic religions—which do you read? Who do you believe when they disagree? And how do you find them and know that there are other knols on the same topic?
Google is offering Knol authors two types of “content.” The first, through a deal with the New Yorker, will be one cartoon from the New Yorker‘s cartoon database per knol.
The other “content,” naturally, will be voluntary participation in AdSense. Google has ever so generously offered to share AdSense revenue on Knol pages with Knol authors—though I’m mighty curious to know how the percentage they’ll get compares to other AdSense publishers’ cuts.