I first wrote about Google Knol when the topic was first aired in December 2007 on Google’s Blog, in my article “Knol is on a Roll: Google’s new economy for online authors?” at Digital Biographer.
A knol is a term Google had created for a ‘unit of knowledge’ and the announcement created a great deal of interest and speculation, as much for the lack of details as for the excitement at what it might evolve into. Many commentators called it ‘Google’s Wikipedia killer’ but as I said then, that was simply a lazy and incorrect generalisation – but there was little very specific information. And today, many commentators are again likening Knol to Wikipedia – see related links below.
Today, Google has announced its public beta of Google Knol, defining Knols as “authoritative articles about specific topics, written by people who know about those subjects.” So from today, you can start to add your knol, or knowledge. This is a beta version, so of course there are rough edges, and Google will be looking to get feedback on many aspects and issues. (I for one found that I could not log at all in using Firefox on my Mac, but have had no problems with Camino or Safari.)
Some positive features are what Google calls ‘moderated collaboration.’ “Any reader can make suggested edits to a knol which the author may then choose to accept, reject, or modify before these contributions become visible to the public.” Nice.
Google, why I can’t verify my identity?
However, one issue that seems a very basic oversight is that ‘Name Verification’ (so you can verify that you, as an author, are who you say you are) is only available for those based in the USA. The systems available for those Knol authors in the USA are via Phone or Credit Card checks. Pardon me for pointing out the obvious, but there are telephone directories and credit cards used all over the world, Google. The raised credibility that Google cites arising from verifying yourself is therefore, at present, reserved exclusively for you only if you live in the USA.
So if you live anywhere outside the USA, do not send to know for whom Google knols, it does not knol for thee. (Apologies for that play on words to John Donne)
This is not the sort of even-handed approach you’d expect from a global player like Google – and the fact that there is no mention of OpenID or even Google’s own identity systems like Google Checkout or Adsense strikes me as a missed opportunity, even for a beta-stage development. The fact that one can share revenue with Google by electing whether or not to show Google Adsense Adverts on one’s Knol content makes this a very strange omission, and I fear, one that may open Knol up to a lot of spam entries or gaming.
I managed to log in and add a Knol to Google this morning entitled ‘How to read Russian in 75 Minutes‘ (I’ve proved that this works in a 75-minute lecture in 2005, by the way) but at present, my Knol on Reading Russian only appears in a search when I am logged in with a Google login (the login I use for Gmail, Google Reader etc), but it the knol is reachable with a link, whether or not I am logged in.
However, the range of ‘Featured Knols’ as samples that appeared on my screen today had me speechless – they covered Diabetes, Lung Cancer, Toilet Clogs and Tooth pain. Wow. Maybe that’s Google’s way of encouraging you to add better content – or at least, to add more cheerful and uplifting content!