I've been following the development of Knol and, well, I don't likeit. Despite all Google's efforts to put its own media andcontent-provider right up there with Wikipedia when I do a Googlesearch, I find Knol entries typically self-promoting and lacking all ofthe interesting debates that make Wikipedia exciting. They also tendto be very Western-centered, more infomercials than information.
It's clear Google is doing everything to promote its own "authorized" news source. In an article in the New York Times for August 11, 2008, "Is Google a Media Company?," Miquel Helft knows that Knol, which Google owns, is rekindlign fears among some media companies that Google is edging in on their turf. But it is more than that. Google searches seem to turn up Knol results more than other results, although Google denies that it is fudging. Yet, as this image shows, even in its second day of existence, Knol's entries were turning up right under Wikipedia in Google searches. Remember back in the day, how people worried about "pipes" and "content," and wanted them kept separate. Google these days is pipes, content, the whole shebang, more and more.
But the larger issue is what Knol is about. it's less about "authorship" and "credentials," to my mind, than self-advertising, self-promotion, and single-minded and narrow-minded points of view. What I love about Wikipedia is precisely that multiple points of view prevail. Take a look at the Wikipedia essay on "the senses" and you'll see what I mean. The fact is, our "five senses" goes back to Aristotle and we still believe in them and teach them to children even though there is nothing sacrosanct about them at all. Here's part of that long and interesting Wikipedia entry:
"There is no firm agreement among neurologists as to the number ofsenses because of differing definitions of what constitutes a sense.One definition states that an exteroceptive sense is a faculty by whichoutside stimuli are perceived. The traditional five senses are sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste: a classification attributed to Aristotle. Humans also have at least six additional senses (a total of eleven including interoceptive senses) that include: nociception (pain), equilibrioception (balance), proprioception & kinesthesia (joint motion and acceleration), sense of time, thermoception (temperature differences), and in some a weak magnetoception (direction). One commonly recognized catagorisation for human senses is as follows: chemoreception; photoreception; mechanoreception; and thermoception. Indeed, all human senses fit into one of these four categories.Different senses also exist in other organisms, for example electroreception.
A broadly acceptable definition of a sense would be "a system thatconsists of a group sensory cell types that responds to a specificphysical phenomenon, and that corresponds to a particular group ofregions within the brain where the signalsare received and interpreted." Disputes about the number of sensesarise typically regarding the classification of the various cell typesand their mapping to regions of the brain."
If I search for "senses" on Knol, I get a list of arguments from dull to duller, and none of them tell me what I want: "Marketelligent Declaration" by Bhupendra Khanal, "Counting Carbohydrates for Diabetes" by David Edelman, "Ten Common Sense Portion Control Strategies for Long-Term Weight Loss" by Eric White, "A Hearing Aid Compatible Headset Can Reopen the Sense of sound," "Common Sense About Difficulties in the Bible," "Writing Well: Use Your Senses."
Knol flaunts authorship and credentials. Really? Not in the list above. It has a long, long way to go before it is anything close to interesting in the Wikipedia way---but Google may well be sending you there first because, of course, hits mean revenue, hits allow for better data collection, hits allow for target marketing.
When I read Wikipedia entries, I invariably learn something unexpected, usually about a Chinese or Persian innovation in technology or epistemology or mathematics that I hadn't known about before. When I check it out with other sources, it typically turns out to be right. So Wikipedia often turns out to be a corrective to the trite and the true (pun intended). It prods me, makes me think, makes me work a little, and that, to my mind, is a good thing. Google says "don't be evil." I wish Google's motto were "do more good in the world."