Is this alternative to Wikipedia about to fade into oblivion after only a year of public availability?
Launched in the summer of 2008, with much fanfare, Knol was supposed to restore the place of the individual author in the realm of reference works, leveraging trust, transparency, and expertise in a familiar manner while avoiding the pitfalls of Wikipedia.
What are those pitfalls, again?
Oh, that’s right — Wikipedia works, it’s useful, and it’s popular.
Well, Knol indeed seems to have avoided all those pitfalls, and is now beginning the sad walk into the waves doomed online properties take when their day has passed.
Even the bright spots in Knol’s brief flash of promise were reflections of its ultimate failings, as Slate documented last fall detailing two entries about Sarah Palin.
The best of the two?
The one someone copied from Wikipedia.
It wasn’t even close.
(An interesting aside — Wikipedia has an entry for Google Knol, but I couldn’t find an entry for Wikipedia on Google Knol.)
I wrote about Google Knol when it first appeared, citing a few readily observable limitations:
The software is very bloglike in many ways, but not impressively elegant. I’m surprised at how traditional most of the entries I checked feel. There aren’t a lot of links native to the text, the writing style seems very much like shoveled material, and there isn’t much multimedia (link to a video on YouTube, for crying out loud, you own it, Google!).
People are openly asking if they can just port Wikipedia entries over to Google Knols. Already, it seems users are sensing inefficiency in creating another reference site de novo.
Google Knol doesn’t encourage debate, contribution, or refinement of information. It’s about self-promotion and protecting a point of view — two traits at odds with an objective and robust reference work. So, it’s not surprising that Knol’s traffic is a mere 10% of Wikipedia’s.
Despite the criticisms of Wikipedia, it continues to be the most robust, well-used, and reliable online reference source we have. Google Knol emphasized an old-school information creation model for reference works.
Apparently, that model for creating a general reference work doesn’t measure up anymore.
However, Google isn’t dumb — they have just rolled out a faster, more accurate version of their search engine for public testing.
They know what their core business is.
(Thanks for the pointer about Knol, Stewart.)