December 14th, 2007
Bottom line: Google is going to begin hosting a hosting a collection of author-expert postings on various topics, in the hopes that it will represent an alternative to the collection of 2+ million anonymous community-homogenized articles on Wikipedia. My prediction: yes, it will probably succeed (regardless of whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing), but it will take at least a few years to build up a critical mass to really challenge what Wikipedia has now spent 5+ years doing. (And, as an aside, I think it’s foolish to assume that Jimmy Wales and the Wikipedia folks will sit idly by, twiddling their thumbs while all of this happens.)
Al of this was announced last night — which means that I’m 24 hours behind all of the cogniscenti in talking about all of this stuff — but I feel like I’ve arrived a day after the Phuket tsunami crashed ashore. The blogosphere has beentwittering and yakking and blogging and pontificating about Knol, and it all began while I was stuck on an Acela train between Washington and New York last night, because of a “signal break down” (whatever that is) just north of Philadelphia. C’est la vie …
Anyway … to see what Knol is all about, read Udi Manber’s blog posting on the Google blog site. As you’ll see, Udi 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. At the heart, a knol is just a web page; we use the word “knol” as the name of the project and as an instance of an article interchangeably. It is well-organized, nicely presented, and has a distinct look and feel, but it is still just a web page. 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.”
Perhaps you’ll understand everything you ever wanted to know about Knol after reading Udi’s 8-paragraph explanation; but maybe you’d like to know what other people think. Well, you’re reading my blog about Knol, so that’s at least a modest start. But who else should you be paying attention to? If you track down today’s Techmeme article on Knol, you’ll not only find a one-sentence summary, but also links to approximately sixty blog postings that express a wide range of positive and negative opinions. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to click-and-read sixty different article, especially those written by people I’ve never heard of. So which ones should you read? Well, for what it’s worth, here are the five that I think you should read:
- Google’s ‘Knols’ aren’t a Threat to Wikipedia, by Scot Gilberson of Wired
- Wikipedia and Wikia are Dead. Google Just Killed Them, by Steve Rubel
- Googlepedia, by Nicholas Carr
- Google Knol Attacks The Wiki Ethos At The Heart Of Wikipedia, by Stowe Boyd
- Google Knol: A Step Too Far?, by TechCrunch’s Duncan Riley
But why should you read these five articles, rather than the other 55 on Techmeme’s list? Because I said so, that’s why? And why should you trust what I have to say about all of this? Because I’m an “authority,” that’s why. I must be an authority — after all, I have my own blog, right? Well, if you don’t trust me (in which case I don’t understand why you’re reading my blog in the first place), maybe you would be persuaded that these are the most important five articles if I provided a link to the author bios, so you could read all about their illustrious credentials, and their claim to being an “authority.” Indeed, I did do that for Messrs. Rubel, Carr, and Riley — by providing a link to their page on Wikipedia (you’ll have to admit, the irony of using Wikipedia as the source of authoritativeness is a wicked bit of irony here). Unfortunately, WIkipedia doesn’t know anything about Stowe Boyd (shame! shame!), nor has it heard of Mr. Gilberson.
There’s a purpose to this illustration: the point is that if you decided to find an authoritative source of information on some other topic — i.e., something other than Knol — it would be nice if you had someplace on the Internet you could trust. Of course, you could always go to Wikipedia, and find a homogenized article written by a committee; or, if you already knew who the authoritative experts were on your topic of interest, you could find their website, or their blog, and go straight to the source. But Google is hoping that if you don’t know, and if you want a detailed article written by an author — rather than a Wikipedia committee — you’ll come to them. And I have to admit that my efforts to learn more about Knol itself tends to validate Google’s objective. There’s already a Wikipedia article on Knol, which you can find here; but I don’t want a bland summary, I want to hear the strongly-articulated opinion of outspoken industry commentators that I’ve personally decided to accept as authority. I want to know what Stowe Boyd has to say, and what Nick Carr thinks, along with a handful of others. If I knew I could find all of that, or at least a reasonable subet, at Google — well, then, yes, that would be the place I’d go, rather than Wikipedia.
All of this is somewhat premature, since all we’ve got is an announcement from Google. There are no “Knol authorities” or “Knol articles” for us to examine and compare; and as I suggested at the beginning of this blog, I think it will take a few years for a critical mass of such articles, and such “authority figures” to come together. But if there is any organization that has the resources, and the passion, to do such a thing — well, it’s more likely to be Google than any other high-tech company I can think of right now.
And if they pull this off, we’ll have a whole new world above and beyond the straightforward concept of Google-searching for what’s already out there. We all need to keep an eye on this one …