Not liking knol

rose by eye of einstein
Google’s Knol product is now open:
[Via Bench Marks]

Google has officially announced that their Knol product is now open to the public. Over at the Science of the Invisible blog, AJ Cann asks, if it’s worthwhile and really anything ‘more than extra eyeballs for AdSense.” My response is that of course the whole driving force behind Knol is extra eyeballs for AdSense. That’s what Google does. That’s their MO. To paraphrase the now defunct Fake Steve Jobs, Google’s business model is to drive the price of everything on earth to “free”, everything except one thing that is, small ugly text-based ads, which, conveniently enough, they’ll be the ones selling. So you should never have to ask, is this just a ploy to sell more ads, because with Google, the answer is always going to be “yes”.
That said, there is some merit to the project, and it will be interesting to see if they can get buy-in.

[This is an expansion of a comment I left at Bench Marks]

Well, one thing a knol is not so far is Wikipedia, which for all its faults, is about connecting information. That is (and this is something all good wikis have and most blogs do also), it links to a lot of other information on the web. Wikipedia connects with others.

Part of the skill set in a Web 2.0 world is being able to rapidly find the information needed (well, being able to find the ‘correct’ information, really). Finding information used to be hard, requiring a lot of experience and the fortitude to attack such tomes as Index Medicus or Chemical Abstracts.

Now i go to a Wikipedia page and find out that Index Medicus stopped publication in 2004 because the online site, PubMed, supplanted it. There are all the links to show me that exact information from the National Library of Medicine.

And the PubMed article gives me a lot of detail about how do to searches well on PubMed. So, in a couple of clicks, a graduate student who jumped from the mid-70s to today would be able to see what had changed and how to use PubMed in order to do literature searches. (Yes, there will be all sorts of other things to teach them but you catch my drift.)

A couple of clicks can rapidly aggregate and transfer a lot of knowledge. Even information I used to know and want to remember.

So, if I want to find something quickly that I have forgotten, like the quadratic equation, I can go to the Wikipedia page and not only find out more about it than I really need but I can also find links to a huge number of other Wikipedia pages giving me much more information. Why remember it when it is so easy to retrieve it?

In addition, I can click on some of the pictures and very rapidly determine how or if I could use them in my own work.

All of this promotes the rapid dissemination and acquisition of information.

I saw none of this at knol.

A knol seems to be something entirely different. Every single knol may have an author but of the 5 or so I looked at from the front page, none had a lot of links to outside web pages, even other knol pages.

Each page existed in isolation. It was like dropping in on a seminar given by a single professor in front of a large auditorium. With the author’s back turned to the audience. Students could comment about the lecture afterwards but not affect the lecture itself. The lecturer could not tell if any of the students were attentive or had left the room.

This is a very different conversation than wikis and even some blogs carry out. Collaboration and active dialogs are the hallmark of these approaches. A knol seems to engender neither.

And the ad-driven aspect adds some further complications.

Since each page ‘belongs’ to someone, they do not want anyone to leave. Why have links to other pages allowing people to leave? There is little sense of community. It feels more like a cul-de-sac.

Like the Roach Motel, visitors check in but they don’t check-out.

I’ve been using Wikipedia links here to make a point. In this case, Roach Motel is a stub, with minimal information. I could, and maybe will, add to this article to make it more useful. In a Web 2.0 world, we can get something started as a community and strive for perfection. A knol does not seem to allow this to occur.

Each author owns the article, not the community. That is one of the possible benefits of a knol in the right hands. But I worry a lot about the lack of links, even ones generated by Google.

For example, the use of copyright. Each author can define the copyright of their article, from all rights reserved to Creative Commons. So far so good. However, the knol gives me no way to find out what this really means at all.There is no external link to any copyright definitions at all.

There is no link to tell me just what ‘Creative Commons Attribution License 3.0’ really is. Goggle does not even provide an automated external link to Creative Commons so I can tell what I am allowed to use or not use. So I have to search elsewhere for the term to find out just what I’m allowed to do.

And take a look at this article on pediatric sports injuries. It is very authoritative and has several publications referenced. Yet none of them are linked to the articles, so I have to try and track those down myself. And there is no easy way for me to add those if I wanted to help make the article better.

My son had a problem with ischial apophysitis, which is mentioned briefly in the article, but not at all in Table II. Is this an oversight or because it is not common enough to be included? I have no way to add any information about a topic I know pretty well, even if I am not an expert. Do I create an entirely new knol to cover this? Do I contact the author? Do I leave a comment and hope he reads it?

An article that is owned, that provides no real way for others to have a voice, that has no links to outside sources and retains copyright only for the author goes against much of what defines the Web. It is a magazine article put up on the Web, with little that makes the Web a distinct medium.

Each knol seemed like a dead end to me, with little connection to the rest of the web. I guess the only way anyone would ever find any of them is by a Google search.

Wikipedia may not be perfect but it does provide usually valid entry points for rapidly finding information. And it can do this by a community effort.T hat is what the web is about, using communities to information rapidly. Wikipedia helps here. I fail to see how Knol, in its current form, comes close to helping.

And don’t even get me started on what will happen when someone’s ad revenue drops because someone else has written another more entertaining article. Or when authors write for the ad revenue, just like the modern mass media.

However, a knol could develop into something. In a Web 2.0 world, I expect early failures with a rapid ascension towards perfection, so perhaps some of these problems will vanish or a knol will develop into an entirely different tool than Wikipedia.

Just because I do not find it useful today does not mean it will not be useful in the future.

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