With the release of its Wikipedia-killing user-generated infocenter site Knol, Google hopes to at long last officially own the entire Internet, rather than merely by unspoken agreement as it stands today. Knol, named after a “unit of knowledge,” and NOT a bastardization of the hyena men from Dungeons and Dragons as I’d originally assumed, is looking to be pretty fantastic, and Google is sparing no hyperbole in the lead-up to its launch:
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.Yes, clearly it’s far too difficult for the average person to share their knowledge on the Internet. That totally explains this Wikipedia entry. And this one. And THIS one. And these comments. But inane PR posturing aside, Knol does have some key differences from Wiki that might make it worth your while, or doom it to crash and burn. For example, they're going to incorporate Google AdWords and allow authors to get paid for their Knol pages based on how many hits they get. On one hand, this could mean a lot of incentive for knowledgeable people to post valuable information. On the other, far more likely hand, this will mean that the phrase “Nude Pics of Scarlett Johansson” will have 1,300 entries, all promising you the absolute nudest pics if you just click this external link right here. Naturally, that link will take you to the author’s other Knol entry page about pirates, ninjas, zombies, their fights with Chuck Norris, and anything else they think will bring in the hits. The second difference? Unlike Wikipedia, Knol will not be community-edited. Each author writes exactly what they want, meaning there can be multiple entries on the same topic with totally conflicting information that’s not overseen in any way. The hope is that through a Digg-style rating system, the accurate entries will float to the top. As Google says, “Competition of ideas is a good thing.” And hey, that’s a noble impulse. In theory, it could cut out a good amount of the whining and worthless debate that plagues Wikipedia (although knowing the Internet, people will find a way). It’ll also screw thousands of students who base their final U.S. History paper on a Knol entry that claims George Washington ate King George III and had a wooden cock, which is kind of hilarious. But despite the upsides—free market and all that—I see one major problem here: People research stuff because they don’t know about it, not because they’re looking for something to rate against their own, complete knowledge. So it seems far more likely that Knol pages that SOUND accurate, rather than those that ARE accurate, are going to be the ones doing the best traffic. I mean, I can easily say that a Varkel is a 19th-century term for a sandwich comprised of a pickled herring between two slices of rhubarb pie, traditionally eaten with a bowl of warm brine by Irish longshoremen on the Sabbath, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t just make it up, which I did. And of course there’s the ever-looming concern that with sites like Gbase (AKA "Google Craigslist") and Google Checkout (AKA "Google Amazon"), we're inching ever closer to a world where we’ll have to activate our Google-passkeys in order to enter our Ghouse and have Gdinner with our Google Family, who have been specially selected for us by profiling our buying and clicking habits. Of course, maybe I’m just being paranoid. The real question is: are you feeling lucky?