Google is getting into the knowledge-sharing game, testing a Wikipedia-like service that lets authors publish articles on areas of their expertise and potentially make money from their content.
Offered by invite only in its first phase, the service is called Knol, a term that doubles as a unit of knowledge and the name of a Web page the information sits on. Knol is designed to let experts on a particular subject write an article about it; Google will host the content and provide the tools for writing and editing.
Knols can cover any topic. People will be able to submit comments, questions and edit suggestions, as well as rate or review a knol, which will also include references and links to additional information.
Unlike similar services such as Wikipedia, which encourages anonymous users to collectively post information on various topics, the identity of authors will be public on the knol.
The idea is to keep posts from the well-documented posting abuse and inaccuracies Wikipedia has become known for. Also, authors have complete control over their content and no one else may edit it on the knol page.
"Somehow the Web evolved without a strong standard to keep authors' names highlighted," Udi Manber, vice president of engineering at Google responsible for knol, wrote in a blog post Dec. 13. "We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of Web content."
Manber, whose purview at Google is search quality, said Google will rank the knols appropriately when they appear in Google search results.
Moreover, he said Google will not ask for any exclusivity of content, making it available to any other search engine, such as Yahoo, MSN and Ask.com.
At worst, Google's Knol could fall by the wayside like Google Answers, which was the company's first stab at giving users access to research experts to find information on a topic. At best, Knol could pad the company's war chest of money coined from online advertising.
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Indeed, authors may opt to place ads on their knols. Manber said Google will provide the author with "substantial revenue share" generated by those ads.
Knol will compete with more than Wikipedia and other knowledge-sharing services such as Squidoo and Mahalo, said IDC analyst Rachel Happe.
The service also puts Google in competition with publishers and blog providers, potentially giving the search engine huge amounts of inventory against which to place ads and optimize ad revenues, Happe told eWEEK.
This could be a trouble spot for Google. Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan wrote Dec. 13 that Google must be careful about not abusing its power as a search engine by giving knols preferential treatment over content from other authors.
To be sure, Knol is designed solely to raise awareness about content published on Google to draw more eyeballs, said Forrester Research analyst Jeremiah Owyang.
However, because there are no editors, Owyang said users should be on guard against erroneous content, social media optimization and other flavors of "gaming" the system.
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