Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Google Knol is not Wikipedia

Google has recently announced that its Knol initiative has reached 100,000 entries in only six months. Knol is supposed to be Google's answer to Wikipedia, doing it better. How? By having entries managed by named people, instead of anonymously. And these editors can earn some share of advertising revenue. That sounds like a good concept, especially in the face of criticisms of Wikipedia, where anonmity and openness can lead to abuse.

The result? Knol is a huge disappointment. Witness the economics entries, which have been highjacked by lunatics. Despite appearances, incentives are wrong: There is no reward for correcting entries, or even maintaining them. All that matters is being the fisrt to start an entry. This leads to unnecessary duplication of entries, see for example those on Barack Obama (243) of which none comes even close to the quality of the Wikipedia entry.

Why is Wikipedia so much better even if contributions are anonymous? I think it encompasses all the benefits of the open source movement. People participate because they see an opportunity to contribute to the community. They want to share their passion without glorifying themselves. And they know that nobody is making money on their back. Imagine if Wikipedia started making portions of the site accessible only to subscribers. Contributors would leave en masse. Also, Wikipedia seems to have much better checks and balances in place, effectively subjecting entries to continuous peer review. Knol puts this in the hands of editors, who seem more interested in pusjing agendas than anything else.

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