Google has unveiled its Knols reference work. It’s done in the spirit of Wikipedia, but the idea is that by tying authorship to an individual, the information will be better and more trustworthy. Authors can choose to adopt Google advertising as part of their authoring environment.

Technically, Knols seems like a combination of blogging and wikimedia, but Google has overlayed a registration process and AdSense enrollment aspect that isn’t very smooth. Even as a registered and frequent Gmail user, AdSense user, and all around Web nut, I couldn’t get things to work, and had to stop my assuredly riveting yet whimsical entry on blueberries. Shame, really.

Knols provides for multiple content licenses (Creative Commons Attribution, Noncommercial, and All Rights Reserved), and individual Knols can be openly edited, moderated, or closed. The author chooses rights and editing options.

Because I couldn’t make an entry, I have no idea what the subsequent administrative side looks like.

Oddly, the home page mocks search engines (“Who needs a search engine? Ctrl-F”), yet that approach doesn’t do much good since the site is architected as a paginated directory, so you only can search a little bit in the browser. Full searches that yield zero results generate a prompt to create the knol on that topic (or another). This makes some sense, but requires a major and unlikely shift of user modes (from content consumer to content producer), on the spot.

There are a lot of signs that as a beta this is pretty rough around the edges. You sign up for an “Id” instead of an “ID,” for instance. According to Freud, my id was not optional. There are also dead links and many of the comments I’ve seen report problems. Google launches things quite often, but you never know how seriously they will take them in the long run. Often, the splash is bigger than can be explained by the fish that made it.

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.

With new wikimedia experiments popping up in nearly every domain, being in the reference works world must be a bit distressing these days.

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


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