Is Knol *really* the great Wikipedia-killler?

Doc Searls is the first to echo some of my initial (private) scepticism about Google’s Wikipedia rival, Knol.

Knol "aims to include user-written articles on a range of topics".or as Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan calls it, "Wikipedia with moderation."

Knol permits anyone to author a page about a particular topic. While each article or ‘knol’ defaults to a ‘moderated’ setting, this can be changed to closed, preventing anyone else from authoring it.

This struck me as odd from the outset. I personally wouldn’t place too much trust in anything that was authored, put online then closed to revisions or third party intervention. That’s simply advertorial.

The power of Wikipedia, as David Weinberger has pointed out previously, is not necessarily the articles themselves – it is the social knowledge that is embedded in both the article and its discussion page. Wikipedia is trustworthy because it isn’t authoried by an authority rather, by many conflicting authorities.

But I presume Google knows this already as Knol is a shrewd business move. How smart a move remains to be seen.

Edelman Digital’s Steve Rubel circulated an internal memo which highlighted some of the ‘operating rules’ for Knol. These include:

  • Each article can list its “Affiliation” – a move intended to flag conflicts  of interest.
  • There is a significant emphasis on authors and their authority. For example authors are asked verify their name using mobile phone or credit card details
  • Google (apparently) has a team in place watching for spam, while links are no-follow in an attempt to prevent SEO spam.

But despite these worthy measures, it already looks as if the spammers are setting to work.

Going back to Doc Searl’s initial foray into the Knol-iverse, he writes that that a big chunk of the search results search for ‘hair’ were, in his words, “commercial gaming”.

More specifically he highlighted a clear example where Knol’s guidelines were being (or at least appeared to be being breached):

“The top result is for this article on hair loss, by Rob E. Angelino, Founder Hairlab center for hair restoration. Or so it says at the top. At the bottom it says "Copyright © 2005-2007 United Global Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved".

Not sure how that squares with Knol’s defaulted Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, but it’s significant that Mr. Angelino also has collaboration closed on the document. You can do that with Knol. It also says here that Mr. Angelino is "Founder and CEO of United Global Media Group Inc." and "currently the CEO of The Beauty TV Network". Mr. Angelino has a total of six knols, including one each for the Beauty Channel, BeautyTV and The Beauty Network.”

And there’s my concern made real. I just don’t get the point of Knol. It is just one quick and easy algorithm away from a spammers’ paradise. But even despite Google’s best attempts to keep Knol spam free. I still don’t see the point. And perhaps that’s because there isn’t one.

The big hype around Knol has been that it is Google’s Wikipedia-killer. But, as Doc points out, Knol isn’t a rival to Wikipedia at all. It doesn’t come close or even compare.

And maybe Google knows that which is why they (or someone) has positioned it as such.

Technorati tags: Knol, Doc Searls, Wikipedia, Spam

Comments

  1. Knol just sounds like it will take the fun out of online encyclopedias. Surely half the fun of Wikipedia is trying to decipher the complete lies from the truth?

  2. There is also a lot of discussion about how Knols appear in Google’s natural search results – with bloggers raising a suspicion that they are being given priority over other articles.
    If this is true then the whole Knol initiative could have wider implications than just Google v Wikipedia.
    This has been featured heavily on Mashable in recent days eg http://mashable.com/2008/07/28/googles-knol-evil-and-doomed/
    Interesting to see how this all develops over coming months…..

  3. @Paul – Thanks for stopping by! I take it you’re comment is tongue in cheek? If not, we’ll have to get into a deep debate over truth and meaning ;)
    @Nick – Yeah. That’s a whole other avenue I decided not to go into. Is Knol just a cheap shot to dint Wikipedia’s natural (“natural”?) search rankings? And if so doesn’t this lend it almost solely to spammers etc etc?? We’ll have to wait and see :)

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