Google and Knol

Other media companies, like WebMD, have already begun posting their content on Knol.

“We participated in Google Knol as a test, as we’ve done with other, similar offerings,” a WebMD spokeswoman, Jennifer Newman, said in an e-mail message. “We are evaluating its effectiveness in further building brand awareness for WebMD.”

Knol aims to be a collection of articles written by experts in each area. It's only a few weeks old, but it's brought up some interesting questions for me, besides the branding and advertising ideas addressed in the nytimes piece.

First, who is an expert? When teaching and encouraging sophomores to do a little original research, I repeat to them that once they do their research, they will be our local expert on that topic. Knol has a sort of peer review system where you can rate articles and supposedly the best experts will rise to the top, but right now some people's one line articles have five star ratings. At least these don't show up in the first page of search results, but depending on your subject, it's slim pickings anyway. ((I don't mean to pick on this guy, it's just that his articles come up frequently when I search for tidbits related to the classes I teach))

Second, the subjects covered. As you can guess from WebMD getting in on the fun, most of the articles on the front page are health related. I have a hard time finding anything else on the site, except a great piece on barbeque sauce. Ok, not entirely true. I can find a lot that is not health related, and not referenced, a lot of cooking techniques, opinions about yoga, and a smattering of education pieces when I search for my areas of interest. What I really do have a hard time finding are pieces in the sciences. I feel like this could be a great place to scientists or researchers to write simplified versions of their published papers and help share their knowledge.

Finally, range of quality in articles in huge, and not only in the case of the one line articles mentioned previously. Searching for periodic table initially brings up one article, allowing for more search results brings up two more. The first result is a good example of a knol, it's had twenty published version and two collaborators. The second is a disappointing graphic where every elemental symbol links to it's wikipedia page. It should be interesting to watch knol and see which of many directions it takes.

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