Liking knol somewhat

drops by eye of einstein

So, after
writing about my knol dislikes, let me discuss some of my positive thoughts about knol. Knol is the newest feature from Google.

As I wrote earlier, I do not like some of the non-Web 2.0 features seen in some of the early essays (i.e. lack of any links to other pages, static text, lack of effective conversations). But I do like some of the principles behind this product.

Huge amounts of information are collected inside a person’s head or on their computer. And it is not accessible to anyone else. Getting this tacit information out, making it explicit so that others can use it, is an important goal of many Web 2.0 tools.

By providing singular authorship, knols allow a more ego-driven approach for making the information explicit than Wikipedia does.

That is, Wikipedia also provides a means for moving tacit information into the explicit realm. But, there is no real sense of authorship, nothing to really plant a flag and say I did this, I am providing this to the world.

Knols permit this to happen, which should enlarge the amount of information seen on the web. Because there are a plethora of experts who do not want an anonymous reputation built from Wikipedia but might want a renowned one from a knol.

Finding ways to transform tacit information into explicit are crucial in today’s world. Wikis can do this. Blogs can do this. And so can knols. Knols will not replace other approaches. They provide a new path for the transformation to occur.

Being a scientist, I have a pretty healthy ego (almost a necessity to do research) and I want people to know about the work I do, not simply as an anonymous entry but with my name attached. It is why I want to have my name on a paper that as many people as possible can read. I can then point to it and say This is mine. That is also part of the reason I write a blog. Ego is good.

So, Web 2.0 tools that provide an avenue for ‘named’ publication will find a market.

Plus, a knol entry would probably look a little better to the tenure committee for an academic than an Wikipedia entry or even a blog. The author could use the web stats to demonstrate the impact of the article in ways that current journal articles can not. It would be a novel approach for dissemination of scientific knowledge.

So, I can see a knol developing into some sort of secondary arena for publication of scientific research, for example. This would be a paradigm-shifting possibility. I will be very interested to see if this avenue is used much by the scientific community.

However, the same problem of filtering still matters. Knols could be a tremendous path to transforming tacit information but there will still be an information glut to deal with. My concerns come more from how these articles are found and dealt with.

In the scientific community, this sort of authorship is now dealt with by peer review and publication in reputable, high impact journals. If a knol is going to provide anything similar, especially when it comes to reputation, it will have to function a little differently than it does now.

I don’t worry strictly about people plagiarizing as much as diverting. An example off the top of my head:

I put something up about my latest, cutting edge research. Perhaps about some research in press but with more detail than normal. Perhaps I include some of the information from my grant requests.

The essay provides a spot for people to read about my work and comment, potentially providing insights and questions that can accelerate my ability to innovate, leading me to new areas of research while providing me with documentation for my performance reviews. Great.

This is what the Web provides that no other medium does. And everyone wins. I get my ego-driven scientific reputation enhanced and the world gets a lot of information made available for others to use.

But my article is written for a scientific audience.

Then someone (say a good science writer) takes that information, rewrites it and uses SEO approaches to make sure that people find that article before mine and create ad-driven revenue for themselves.

They get very popular (as I hope they would be, since good science writers are important), get found first from search engines and my page views plummet. So then I have to justify why I wasted my time publishing my research.

No one here is doing anything wrong but it becomes more of a zero-sum game now instead of a win-win. I would no longer have any incentive to use this approach to write about my work.

So, at this point, I am still a little worried about how the articles will be found, just how reputation will be determined and how the filtering of information will be accomplished.

But I do think there is a place for this sort of approach. It may not be there yet but having information ‘owned’ by someone will provide new avenues of dissemination not seen with more anonymous approaches.

It just may take a few iterations to get to perfection.

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