Google Knol

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About Google's Knol Project

Encouraging people to contribute knowledge

12/13/2007 06:01:00 PM
Posted by Udi Manber, VP Engineering

The web contains an enormous amount of information, and Google has helped to make that information more easily accessible by providing pretty good search facilities. But not everything is written nor is everything well organized to make it easily discoverable. There are millions of people who possess useful knowledge that they would love to share, and there are billions of people who can benefit from it. We believe that many do not share that knowledge today simply because it is not easy enough to do that. The challenge posed to us by Larry, Sergey and Eric was to find a way to help people share their knowledge. This is our main goal.

Earlier this week, we started inviting a selected group of people to try a new, free tool that we are calling "knol", which stands for a unit of knowledge. Our goal is to encourage people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it. The tool is still in development and this is just the first phase of testing. For now, using it is by invitation only. But we wanted to share with everyone the basic premises and goals behind this project.

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.

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. The goal is for knols to cover all topics, from scientific concepts, to medical information, from geographical and historical, to entertainment, from product information, to how-to-fix-it instructions. Google will not serve as an editor in any way, and will not bless any content. All editorial responsibilities and control will rest with the authors. We hope that knols will include the opinions and points of view of the authors who will put their reputation on the line. Anyone will be free to write. For many topics, there will likely be competing knols on the same subject. Competition of ideas is a good thing.

Knols will include strong community tools. People will be able to submit comments, questions, edits, additional content, and so on. Anyone will be able to rate a knol or write a review of it. Knols will also include references and links to additional information. At the discretion of the author, a knol may include ads. If an author chooses to include ads, Google will provide the author with substantial revenue share from the proceeds of those ads.

Once testing is completed, 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. We are quite experienced with ranking web pages, and we feel confident that we will be up to the challenge. We are very excited by the potential to substantially increase the dissemination of knowledge.

We do not want to build a walled garden of content; we want to disseminate it as widely as possible. Google will not ask for any exclusivity on any of this content and will make that content available to any other search engine.

As always, a picture is worth a thousands words, so an example of a knol is below (double-click on the image to see the page in full). The main content is real, and we encourage you to read it (you may sleep better afterwards!), but most of the meta-data — like reviews, ratings, and comments — are not real, because, of course, this has not been in the public eye as yet. Again, this is a preliminary version.

Google Launches Encyclopedia Project Knols

Written By Sepideh Saremi | December 14, 2007 | Share This |

Google launched a project yesterday that will merge the authority of traditional encyclopedias with some of the social aspects of crowd-powered Wikipedia. Dubbed “Knols,” (a “knol” stands for unit of knowledge and is what each article is called) the project emphasizes the authority of its writers in each subject, arguably lending it more credibility than Wikipedia. It will also feature social features such as reader-submitted ranking, commenting, and peer reviews, but Google says they will not have any hand in editing and that authors will own their pages. In fact, they’ll also have the chance to add ads to their pages. The project is not yet live and is currently invite-only but it seems that soon anyone can write; as a preliminary example, Google has provided a knol about insomia from a Stanford sleep expert.

Clearly, the encyclopedic scope of this project is drawing a lot of comparisons to Wikipedia. Steve Rubel of Micro Persuasion thinks Knols will kill Wikipedia, partly because of Google’s resources and its emphasis on authoritative writers, and Wired counters that it won’t because the encyclopedias differ over the fundamental question of collective vs. individual authority, and people will still look to Wikipedia.

There’s one other large-scale knowledge project that may need to worry, though, and that’s the NY Times-owned About.com. Written by “guides,” who are compensated for their writing based on page views, About.com doesn’t have any real social checks-and-balances; the most interaction or input users can make is in comments. I predict that over time, Google’s knols will supercede About.com’s articles in number and quality, and the ability to support one’s writing with ads via knols will be as attractive to subject experts as the page views-based compensation of About.com.

Google’s first foray into content publishing (if you don’t count its acquisition of Blogger several years ago), happened in early September, when its aggregation service Google News penned a deal with several news wires to host and link to their stories directly, displacing the online newspapers that ran the wires’ syndicated content. The knols project is also another example of the convergence of search, social media, and content, as Mahalo Social did earlier this week.

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