In relatively quiet fashion, search engine giant Google announced the testing of a new tool for organizing and disseminating knowledge on the Web. The new tool is built around the concept of a "knol," which the company says stands for "a unit of knowledge."
"A knol on a particular topic," wrote Udi Manber, Google's vice president of engineering, "is meant to be the first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read."
Manber said that, unlike Wikipedia, which relies on the collective and relatively anonymous contributions of many different editors, Google's knols will be primarily written by a single, identified author whose credentials will be displayed at the top of each knol.
"Google will not serve as an editor in any way, and will not bless any content," Manber emphasized. "All editorial responsibilities and control will rest with the authors. We hope that knols will include the opinions and points of view of the authors who will put their reputation on the line."
More About.com Than Wikipedia
The common consensus in the media is that Google's knols are aimed squarely at Wikipedia, and in fact, the sample Web page on display in Manber's blog post does bear some passing resemblance to a typical Wikipedia page. At the top of the page is a brief summary, beside which is a table of contents with links to various sections of the page.
But Google is considering several different features, the most provocative of which is a ranking system that will affect how high the knols appear in Google search results. Manber said that Google anticipates that there will be competing knols for some topic, and rankings will help readers decide which knols are the most reliable and useful.
Google anticipates that some writers will choose to include Google Ads on their knol pages. "If an author chooses to include ads," Manber said, "Google will provide the author with substantial revenue share from the proceeds of those ads."
That feature alone suggests that Google's target is less Wikipedia than it is About.com, which has built an extensive network of topical ad-supported channels, each one with its own identified human guide. About.com hires writers to serve as Guides on specific titles and then pays them based on page views. The chief difference with Google's knol concept is that any person would be able to create a knol page on any conceivable topic.
No Word on Knol Rollout
Not surprisingly, at this early stage, there are myriad unanswered questions about how all of this will work. Manber also said that, although the concept centers around a specific author, "people will be able to submit comments, questions, edits, additional content, and so on."
Presumably, however, any suggested edits will have to be approved by the page's creator, or the concept of author origin and control will be lost.
It might be a while before the answers are known. A spokesperson for Google said in an e-mail interview that because this is still in the experimental stage, there are no "public-facing knols" for review right now. The company is not releasing any further information about when the knol feature will go live.