Friday, August 15, 2008

Google's Knol Project

Google's Knol Project has received a great deal of publicity lately. Most of the articles I've read so far suggest that Knol is simply Google's attempt to crush Wikipedia.

I'm a huge fan of Wikipedia, which is pretty unusual for someone who has done a lot of teaching. Most teachers detest Wikipedia because students often use Wikipedia as if it were an authoritative source. I consider Wikipedia a useful place to get a general idea about a subject, but the articles there should be taken with a grain of salt, since there's always a chance someone might have gotten into an article and messed with it. Since I like Wikipedia, I was somewhat alarmed by the idea that Google might use the Knol project to steal Wikipedia's thunder. So I decided to investigate a little further and write a few of my own Knols as an experiment. I came to the conclusion that while many claim Knol is simply Google's attempt to supplant Wikipedia, it's quite different for a number of reasons:

1. "You specify the level of collaboration you want with the community"--in other words, unlike at Wikipedia, where you're at the mercy of editors higher up the chain, you can preserve the integrity of your work (assuming your work has some integrity).

2. You can write about a topic even if someone else has written about the same topic before. How many times have you run across an article at Wikipedia and you thought you could do better? Well, with Knol you can.

And as a blogger at the L.A. Times reported, Google also puts Knols through a quality control filter, meaning that when write a Knol, it won't necessarily be accessible via search engines--Google will basically make it "invisible" if it doesn't pass their screening process. This bothers some people, who seem to consider it a form of censorship, but since I prefer not to have to wade through piles of junk, I think it's a useful tool.

I've already written a number of Knols myself--one on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which I'm not all that proud of, and one on St. Patrick and the Irish Church, which is pretty far removed from the subject of this blog, but is probably my best knol. It was an old paper from University that I figured I would probably never realisticaly publish, so turning it into a Knol was a great way to keep my paper alive while getting a little publicity at the same time.

I have to admit that I'm excited about the Knol project because it seems fresh and new. There are definitely some kinks, such as the problems Google's been having with people using Knols as spamming tool (blogger Jonathan Bailey has actually gone so far as to call Knols "The Future of Spam." ). I'm sorry to say that I've personally witnessed a plethora of duplicate content in Knols already, which is pretty disappointing, considering that Google is supposed to be pretty savvy about how to filter that stuff out.

I still have my reservations about the project, but so far it seems like a great opportunity for people to share their knowledge without having to sacrifice their rights to their original work. I would especially recommend it to anyone who, like me, has reams of old university papers around the house that are too big to put on a blog.

Has anyone else experimented with writing Knols so far? What was your experience like?


Gillian L. said...

I have not heard about the Knol Project, but want to investigate it now. Thanks for the excellent summary of what to expect!


alice c said...

How fascinating - I wondered how the Knol Project would overlap with Wikipedia. I think that there is no reason why the two could not offer different services and exist alongside each other.
The advantage with Wikipedia is that it is so user-friendly and it is easy to move around such a massive site. I will be interested to see how the Knol Project develops the user interface.

Margaret said...

Wikipedia is definitely a lot more user friendly, Alice. Good point! And Wikipedia is also a lot better interconnected.

I'm sure Google will develop a better interface soon--you'd think with all the developers they have that it shouldn't take long!

Tracy said...

I've been using Knol and Wikipedia...But must admit I prefer Wikipedia...because of that very user-friendly way it has. But the newness of Knol makes the whole info-seeking search exciting and great to have more options. I think it's amazing that people write and take care of the articles. So I think it's fantastic what you are doing being a part of it all, Margaret. I've not written articles for either myself, so have no experience with that. Perhaps I'm too lazy as I know with just a few clicks away someone else probably already wrote something for me...LOL! Happy Weekend ((HUGS))

Margaret said...

Thanks, Tracy. You would be great at writing knols, though. You should give it a try!

Michael Pekker said...

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Have a good weekend!