The Knol Way: A Google Wobbler on the Information Highway

September 1, 2008

Harry McCracken greeted Google on September 1, 2008, with a less than enthusiastic discussion of Knol, Google’s user-generated repository of knowledge. The story ran in Technologizer, a useful Web log for me. You can read the full text of the story here. The thesis of the write up, as I understand the argument, is that while a good idea, the service lacks depth. The key point for me was this statement:

Knol’s content will surely grow exponentially in the months to come, but quantity is only one issue. Quality needs to get better, too–a Knol that’s filled with swill would be pretty dismaying, and the site in its current form shows that the emphasis on individual authors creates problems that Wikipedia doesn’t have. Basic functionality needs to get better, too: The Knol search engine in its current form seems to be broken, and I think it needs better features for separating wheat from chaff. And I’d give the Knol homepage a major overhaul that helps people find the best Knols rather than featuring some really bad ones.

I agree. One important point is that the Wikipedia method of allowing many authors to fiddle has its ups and downs. Knol must demonstrate that it is more than a good idea poorly executed and without the human editorial input that seems to be necessary under its present set up.

I have a mental image of the Knol flying across the information super highway and getting hit by a speeding Wikipedia. Splat. Feathers but no Knol.

In closing, let me reiterate that I think Knol is not a Wikipedia. It is a source of input for Google’s analytical engines. The idea is that an author is identified with a topic. A “score” can be generated so that the GOOG has another metric to use when computing quality. My hunch is that the idea is to get primary content that copyright free in the sense that Google doesn’t have to arm wrestle publishers who “own” content. The usefulness to the user is a factor of course, but I keep thinking of Knol as useful to Google first, then me.

Will Google straighten up and fly right the way the logo does? Click here to see the logo in action. Very consistent duck, I’m sure. Will Knol be as consistent? I don’t know. Like the early Google News, the service is going to require programmatic and human resources,which may be a while in coming. For now, Google is watching clicks. When the Google has sufficient data, then more direction will be evident. If there’s no traffic, then this service will be an orphan. I hope Googzilla dips into its piggy back to make Knol more useful and higher quality.

Stephen Arnold, September 1, 2008


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