Wikipedia got its name from "wiki wiki", which means quick or fast in Hawaiian. It fulfilled its name as it rapidly overtook conventional encyclopedias as the internet reference source of choice with its ingenious Web 2.0 user-generated content, relative ease for public editing and dedicated volunteer/power users who keep an eye out for knowledge-vandals, countering deviously misinformative public edits.
So why has Google released its own version of Wikipedia?
The Official Google Blog has this to say:
The key principle behind Knol is authorship. Every knol will have an author (or group of authors) who put their name behind their content. It's their knol, their voice, their opinion. We expect that there will be multiple knols on the same subject, and we think that is good.
Clinical Cases and Images reiterates this view with its opinion:
Google Knol is a free online collaborative knowledge database or an experts' wiki but not an encyclopedia. Knol is not a direct competitor of Wikipedia, at least not in its current version. Wikipedia is anonymous -- there is no single editor in charge. In contrast, Knol includes the author name in the URL of the article. Google expects multiple knols on one subject rather than the current Wikipedia model of one article on a subject. The term "knol" ("unit of knowledge") refers to both the project and an article in the project.
There is a definite focus on medical topics -- most of the 300 or so starting "knols" are disease-based and authored by doctors. Will Google Knol be the mythical universal textbook of medicine that Wikipedia never became (and was not meant to be)?
In some ways, I think that this can be a good thing. There is a discrepancy among articles and I'm starting to notice a lot of them have tags saying things like "this article needs to be cleaned up/shortened/appropriately referenced/etc." Having authorship or ownership over a Knol will encourage the writer to have more careful maintenance over their content... but I wonder if it will differ significantly from Wikipedia if the SAME writers post content in both Wikipedia AND a Knol.
It will remain to be seen how effective this will be in the future... especially with another incoming competitor on the horizon.
Medpedia is slated to be released in late 2008 as the "WORLD’S LARGEST COLLABORATIVE ONLINE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MEDICINE AND HEALTH:"
Physicians, medical schools, hospitals, health organizations and public health professionals are now volunteering to collaboratively build the most comprehensive medical clearinghouse in the world for information about health, medicine and the body...
Harvard, Stanford, the UC-Berkeley, the University of Michigan Medical School and dozens of health organizations around the world will be contributing. Many will seed content free of copyright. Harvard Medical School will publish content to uneditable areas that members of their faculty have created as part of a medical school wide effort. Others organizations, such as University of Michigan Medical School will encourage members of their faculty to edit Medpedia as individuals.
Other health and medical organizations like American College of Physicians (ACP), will contribute content and promote participation in Medpedia to their members. Medpedia is also receiving content and cooperation from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and many other government research groups who are eager to have that public domain information distributed to both the general public and to healthcare professionals.
I don't want these websites to become copycats of each other the way About.com simply cuts and pastes their articles direct from Wikipedia. That's a waste of time. On the other hand, I think a lot of users will be fatigued from the WEALTH of science and health knowledge that will be available. The important thing is communicability (aside from reliability and recency) -- the way these articles/knols/pedia entries can effectively share content with and capture the interest of the average Internet user, the guy with a 5 minute attention span at best and at least three browser windows open.
hat tip to Clinical Cases and Images and Medgadget