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Google opens doors to Knol

Wikipedia-like site will identify expert content providers who will own their pages

By Heather Havenstein
July 23, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Seven months after Google Inc. announced plans to launch its own Wikipedia-type project, authors on Wednesday were invited to submit content to the new site, called Knol (which means a unit of knowledge).

Though the concept is quite similar to that used by Wikipedia, Google said it is not looking to compete harshly with the established site. The company said it is focusing on highlighting the authors who submit articles to the site. Each knol will have a single author or group of authors whose name or names will appear with their contributions, Google noted in a blog post.

"The Web contains vast amounts of information, but not everything worth knowing is on the Web," Google said. "An enormous amount of information resides in people's heads: Millions of people know useful things, and billions more could benefit from that knowledge. Knol will encourage these people to contribute their knowledge online and make it accessible to everyone."

Knol will include a new concept that Google is calling "moderated collaboration," where any reader can make suggested edits to a knol, which the author can choose to accept, reject or modify for inclusion on the site, Google said.

Knol also includes various community tools to allow users to submit comments, ratings or write reviews. Mashable blogger Adam Ostrow wrote that because Knol allows authors to insert AdSense ads on their knols and earn money based on clicks, "this sounds a lot less like the community collaborating on authoritative articles (Wikipedia) and a lot more like a potential land grab to create content for keywords."

However, he acknowledged that offering the ability for anyone to comment or review an article raises or lowers the authority of that article and should keep "would-be opportunists" at bay.

"In giving a single author control over each knol and its edits, it's hard to imagine the service will be as authoritative as Wikipedia, which many would argue has its own biases," Ostrow added. "Meanwhile, Knol could still be a huge traffic generator for Google and steal visitors from Wikipedia if it's integrated in search results -- something Google has not been shy about doing with other properties like YouTube."

Danny Sullivan, a blogger at Search Engine Land, noted that the best way to describe Knol is Wikipedia with moderation. "The collaborative advantage to Wikipedia is also its disadvantage," Sullivan noted. "Since anyone can contribute, some introduce factual errors or overtly vandalize articles. It's one reason that Wikipedia is considering moderation."

However, Sullivan added that he is concerned that hosting Knol content will set up inherent conflicts that will start to erode the trust users have in Google.

"By hosting this content, it plays too much in the content-owner space when its core business is supposed to be driving traffic outbound to others," Sullivan noted. "I can see the value in Knol's tool set and the potential it might offer to help collect further knowledge. So I'll give Knol the benefit of the doubt -- that it will perhaps occupy a space not being filled, rather than push others aside."

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