Google and the Academy: Knol, Knowledge and Kingdom

Last night, Google announced a new service called “knol,” part Wikipedia and part Mahalo. According to Udi Manber on The Official Google Blog, a “knol” or “unit of knowledge” was designed to act as retainer of authoritative information from trusted authors. Manber goes on to say:

“The key idea behind the knol project is to highlight authors. Books have authors’ names right on the cover, news articles have bylines, scientific articles always have authors — but somehow the web evolved without a strong standard to keep authors names highlighted. We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of web content.”

Google’s approach to collaborative knowledge sharing is interesting and somewhat different to Wikipedia. (Remember, Wikipedia writers (largely) remain anonymous and open until proven named.) The idea of a completely open, authoritative and relevant information directory has consequences outside of what was originally intended, especially coming from the “pure” and “do-good” Google. Om Malik believes this is a further, definitive step toward a Google monopoly:

“Whether it will be successful or not, remains to be seen. Now if you think about it, knol despite its fancy name is nothing but a classic move by a quasi-monopolist who wants to ensure that they keep getting the raw material (in this case content on knols) for free, so that they can keep selling it at a premium. I stopped believing in Google’s “do no evil” ethos a long time ago….”

But for what it’s worth, the Google kingdom has been righteous and beneficial to many, especially those of the academy. (Think IT support and generous/intuitive email systems across campuses.) Imagine what will happen within the hierarchy of information at a university with the advancement of knols. Students and professors can continue the conversation from the classroom to the knol and then collaborate with others the world over. The knol architecture (as seen here) will offer a robust learning experience that creates a unique social dynamic.

Wikipedia will still be Wikipedia but the knol will become academia’s new best friend.

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