Jul 28, 2008

World - Units of Knowledge

One of the biggest advantages of the internet is the amount of information that is available to anybody with an internet connection at the click of a button. However, the volume and scope of this information can be overwhelming. And so the founders of Silicon Valley giant, Google, decided to create an algorithm that would organise all the information available on the Web to make access easier. The result is that over 50 per cent of all search queries on the internet go through Google. In a very real sense, Google is the gatekeeper to all the knowledge available on the Net in our age. Now Google's competitor to Wikipedia, Knol - an attempt to create a credible and user-friendly online encyclopaedia - has gone live. Knol, named to represent "a unit of knowledge", seems to be an attempt to fill in the blanks left by Wikipedia's more community-oriented approach to disseminating information. Knol's basic premise is the same - to create an online reference library that people contribute to - but it represents a significant departure from Wikipedia, so far the dominant source for information on subjects as disparate as Einstein and the Riot Grrl movement. A key difference between the Wikipedia model and Knol is that while Wikipedia is ad-free and contributions are unpaid, the author of a Knol entry will have the opportunity to support his article with ads and earn money from them. Google's rationale in creating this model is clear: it hopes to encourage more people to contribute. More importantly, while Wikipedia depends on collective contributions from anonymous users on a specific topic to maintain an entry, Knol encourages signed contributions from experts. Wikipedia's model has drawn criticism on account of how easy it is to manipulate the entries, affecting the accuracy of information available from that website. But Google will verify the identities of the people who write articles on Knol, thus introducing some accountability. It would be premature to suggest that the days of collaborative, community-driven, user-generated content are at an end. But there does seem to be greater demand for edited information vetted by professionals. Wikipedia exemplifies all that can go wrong with the faulty information available so easily on the Web. For all the stuff that it gets right, Wikipedia finds itself involved in dust-ups over inaccuracies or having to lock controversial entries. Knol might provide a way to address the problems of an open platform like Wikipedia while leaving enough room for user participation.

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