Google Knol: Another New Thing

A new word to become familiar with: Knol. It is a shortened form of the word ‘knowledge’ and means a unit of knowledge.

A new word to become familiar with: Knol.

It is a shortened form of the word ‘knowledge’ and means a unit of knowledge. No, this is not some teenager’s text message abbreviation. It’s a term created by Google, and therefore we might as well learn it, because it’s going to stick around.

What is it really?

In the Google world, “A knol is an authoritative article about a specific topic.” Examples of these can be found here. In some ways, a knol could be compared to a Wikipedia entry, though there are quite a few differences. There isn’t an official Knol website like Wikipedia. Instead, knols are individual pages that anyone can write on a topic they know a lot about. These knol pages will show up in Google searches, and most likely in other search engines as well.

“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,” said Udi Manber, Google VP of Engineering, when first introducing the concept.

For now, only a couple hundred knols exist, and they are mostly commissioned articles on health and medicine written by university professors. These are meant to serve as examples to get the ball rolling. There is a knol on biomedical informatics and another on osteoarthritis.

There are other differences between Knol and Wikipedia, with the major one related to authorship. While Wikipedia allows people to anonymously submit or edit content, Knol content is published with the author’s name. By attaching identity, a knol attaches the author’s reputation to his or her work. The writing may also include opinions while Wikipedia follows a "neutral point of view policy."

While Google offers the tools to create a knol, the rest is up to the authors. As the Official Google Blog explains it:

"With Knol, we are introducing a new method for authors to work together what we 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.

"People can submit comments, rate, or write a review of a knol. At the discretion of the author, a knol may include ads from our AdSense program. If an author chooses to include ads, Google will provide the author with a revenue share from the proceeds of those ad placements."

Controversy

This new idea was not launched without scrutiny. When the idea was originally unveiled in December, many challenged some of its basic principles.

One obvious objection was of course that Google was trying to "kill" Wikipedia. There are however, enough differences between the two and Wikipedia has openly welcomed knols, saying “the more good free content, the better for the world.” Authorship in this case was the key difference. By attaching an identity, Google places sole content responsibility onto the author. Obviously not all of the content will be written by professors like those already in existence.

“Participation in knols will be completely open, and we cannot expect that all of them will be of high quality. Our job in Search Quality will be to rank the knols appropriately when they appear in Google search results,” said Manber.

This brings up the next issue: knols will appear in search results, leading some to worry that they will be given priority over other resources when listed in search results. Google has emphasized that search positions of knols will be determined by the usual Google algorithm. For now, this seems to be true as Google searches on topics such as biomedical informatics and osteoarthritis do not turn up a knol on the first results page unless the word “knol” is specifically listed in the search field.

There is also financial incentive. By opening the option for advertising, Google has created more space for Google ads while providing incentive for people to write knols and an incentive for Google not to be neutral when ranking sites in search results.

Finally, while Google’s original aim was the dissemination of information, it has slowly stepped into the field of creating content. Though Google insists it will take no editor role in knol content—placing sole responsibility on the author—some critics claim they are stepping on the toes of the media.

What does it all mean?

As Knol has just been launched, it’s hard to tell. Bob Wachter of the HealthCareBlog suggests that it may change medical publishing over time as more physicians can post their own material online and still retain copyright over their work, not to mention receive compensation for it.

For more views on Knol, visit:

Knol and web publishing challenge medical journals’ stronghold by Bob Wachter

Google’s Know it all project

Wikipedia Competitor being tested by Google

Google’s Units of Knowledge May Raise Conflict of Interest