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Friday, October 10, 2008

Google Launches Its Challenge To Wikipedia with its Knol

Wednesday, July 23, 2008-Knol has been described both as a rival to encyclopedia sites such as Wikipedia and Scholarpedia and as a complement to Wikipedia, offering a different format that addresses many of Wikipedia's shortcomings.

Strengths, weaknesses, and article quality in Wikipedia
Wikipedia's greatest strengths, weaknesses, and differences all arise because it is open to anyone, has a large contributor base, and articles are written by consensus according to editorial guidelines and policies.
Wikipedia is open to a large contributor base, drawing a large number of editors from diverse backgrounds. This allows Wikipedia to significantly reduce regional and cultural bias found in many other publications, and makes it very difficult for any group to censor and impose bias. A large, diverse editor base also provides access and breadth on subject matter that is otherwise inaccessible or little documented. A large number of editors contributing at any moment also means that Wikipedia can produce excellent encyclopedic articles and resources covering newsworthy events within hours or days of their occurrence. It also means that like any publication, Wikipedia may reflect the cultural, age, socio-economic, and other biases of its contributors. There is no systematic process to make sure that "obviously important" topics are written about, so Wikipedia may contain unexpected oversights and omissions. While most articles may be altered by anyone, in practice editing will be performed by a certain demographic (younger rather than older, male rather than female, rich enough to afford a computer rather than poor, etc) and may, therefore, show some bias. Some topics may not be covered well, whilst others may be covered in great depth.
Allowing anyone to edit Wikipedia means that it is more easily vandalized or susceptible to unchecked information, which requires removal. While blatant vandalism is usually easily spotted and rapidly corrected, Wikipedia is more subject to subtle viewpoint promotion than a typical reference work. However, bias which would be unchallenged in a traditional reference work is likely to be ultimately challenged or considered on Wikipedia. While Wikipedia articles generally attain a good standard after editing, it is important to note that fledgling, or less well monitored, articles may be susceptible to vandalism and insertion of false information. Wikipedia's radical openness also means that any given article may be, at any given moment, in a bad state, such as in the middle of a large edit, or a controversial rewrite. Many contributors do not yet comply fully with key policies, or may add information without citable sources. Wikipedia's open approach tremendously increases the chances that any particular factual error or misleading statement will be relatively promptly corrected. Numerous editors at any given time are monitoring recent changes and edits to articles on their watchlist.
Wikipedia is written by open and transparent consensus — an approach that has its pros and cons. Censorship or imposing "official" points of view is extremely difficult to achieve and almost always fails after a time. Eventually for most articles, all notable views become fairly described and a neutral point of view reached. In reality, the process of reaching consensus may be long and drawn-out, with articles fluid or changeable for a long time while they find their "neutral approach" that all sides can agree on. Reaching neutrality is occasionally made harder by extreme-viewpoint contributors. Wikipedia operates a full editorial dispute resolution process, that allows time for discussion and resolution in depth, but also permits months-long disagreements before poor quality or biased edits will be removed.
That said, articles and subject areas sometimes suffer from significant omissions, and while misinformation and vandalism are usually corrected quickly, this does not always happen. (See for example this incident in which a person inserted a fake biography linking a prominent journalist to the Kennedy assassinations and Soviet Russia as a joke on a co-worker which went undetected for 4 months, saying afterwards he "didn’t know Wikipedia was used as a serious reference tool.") Therefore, a common conclusion is that it is a valuable resource and provides a good reference point on its subjects.
The MediaWiki software which runs Wikipedia retains a history of all edits and changes, thus information added to Wikipedia never "vanishes", and is never "lost" or deleted. Discussion pages are an important resource on contentious topics. Therefore, serious researchers can often find a wide range of vigorously or thoughtfully advocated viewpoints not present in the consensus article. Like any source, information should be checked. A 2005 editorial by a BBC technology writer comments that these debates are probably symptomatic of new cultural learnings which are happening across all sources of information (including search engines and the media), namely "a better sense of how to evaluate information sources."

After several months in beta, Google ( NSDQ: GOOG) is going wide with content site Knol. Google is maintaining a professional difference between Knol and Wikipedia is that all entries must have be identified by the writer's name whereas Wikipedia, which allows anonymity. While Wikipedia does rely on editors and the community to police the site,
Knol does not edit or endorse the information and visitors will not be able to edit or contribute to a knol unless they have the author's permission. Readers will be able to notify Google if they find any content objectionable. Knol is a hybrid of the individual, often opinionated entries found in blogs and the collective editing relied on by Wikipedia and other wiki sites. The service uses what it calls "moderated collaboration" in which any reader of a specific topic page can make suggested edits to the author or authors, who retain control over whether to accept, reject or modify changes before they are published.

DuPont said that rather than competing with Wikipedia, Knol may end up serving as a primary source of authoritative information for use with Wikipedia articles.

Knol has publishing tools similar to single blog pages. But unlike blogs, Knol encourages writers to reduce what they know about a topic to a single page that is not chronologically updated.The name of the service is a play on an individual unit of knowledge and entries on the public website,, are called "knols. Google wants to rank entries by popularity to encourage competition. Google plans to rank related pages according to user ratings, reviews and how often people refer to specific pages.

Product manager for Knol DuPont said, Knol focuses on individual authors or groups of authors in contrast to Wikipedia's subject entries, which are updated by users and edited behind the scenes.

In its early stages, Knol remains a far cry from Wikipedia,, which boasts 7 million collectively edited articles in 200 languages.(nearly 2.5 million in Wikipedia’s English language version.) Google signed a deal with Conde Nast's New Yorker, giving Knol authors the rights to use one of the magazine's famous cartoons in each Knol posting. Google will allow Knol writers to run ads on their entries and will share income with them. VIA

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