Udi Manber from Google writes about a new service for sharing knowledge called knol.
"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."
Unlike Wikipedia, Knol wants article written by people who are an authority on a subject. The articles written in Knol are more like scientific papers because they have clearly defined authors, references, even if they don't necessarily include original research. "We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of web content," explains Google.
Knol will be open to anyone and it will be interesting to see how Google verifies your identity. If you claim to be Nelson Mandela, how can Google know that this claim is real?
Google provides tools for editing the text, hosts the article and allows you to monetize it (but that's not required). Obviously, Google can't guarantee that an article is accurate or complete and that's the small role of a community: rate the articles, write reviews and suggest edits.
"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."
Google did a similar thing when it allowed people in the news to comment on news articles. The number of comments is very small (around 150 for the last 30 days), but they're interesting and add a lot to a story.
Wikipedia managed to become one of the most important sites on the web even if it allowed anyone to edit an article. According to the online encyclopedia, "The English Wikipedia edition passed the 2,000,000 article mark on September 9, 2007, and as of December 13 it had over 2,125,453 articles consisting of over 921,000,000 words. Wikipedia's articles have been written collaboratively by volunteers around the world and the vast majority of them can be edited by anyone with access to the Internet. Having steadily risen in popularity since its inception, it currently ranks among the top ten most-visited websites worldwide." But one of the most important problem of Wikipedia is that articles lack credibility and it's difficult to tell if they contain accurate information. Assuming Google manages to verify people's identity, Knol could solve this problem.
Udi Manber, who heads the project, told Danny Sullivan that the main goal is "to help people put knowledge on the web that doesn't currently exist, which in turn should make search better, since there will be better information out there." Google certainly hopes to attract important authors and that's probably the reason why Udi Manber talked about the project on Google's blog. But how will the project scale when it becomes available to the public?