The job of a journalist is hard. New subjects crop up each day, and the task by the deadline is to demystify a topic for the general public. A common technique is to use familiar markers to interpret new ones. Give the reader something they know to help understand things they don’t: “The KitchenAid stand mixer is the Cadillac of cooking equipment,” or “The new Blackberry Curve is the answer to the iPhone.”
But the seduction of this technique poses some serious problems.
This has been the case with Google’s new offering called Knol, the so-called “Wikipedia rival,” which is meant to “highlight authors” creating user-generated content.
The recent general reporting around Google Knol has been rather atrocious. For the lack of any better metaphors, most journalists (including professional “tech journalists”) saw the “user created” part of Knol and lacking any significant understanding about either project, immediately labeled it a “Wikipedia rival.” A quick Yahoo News and Google News search sees an overwhelming number of headlines trumpeting Knol as this Wikipedia “rival” or Google’s “answer” to the free encyclopedia.
But besides simplistically sharing a “user generated” Web 2.0 pedigree, the comparison is flawed in so many ways.
The head-to-head matchup seems obvious because Wikipedia is the only thing that immediately comes to mind to most writers when thinking “user generated.” I contend it’s lazy journalism, where respected tech outlets also fell for this trap. It seems it was too tempting to stick by the story, portraying nonprofit David competing against corporate search king Goliath.
The result, is we’re stuck with this fallacious “media narrative.” And from now on, Knol will always be seen as Wikipedia’s foil. Even when it’s not.
Have you heard of Associated Content, Squidoo, Helium or WikiHow? No? If you haven’t, you shouldn’t be writing about Google Knol. These are exactly the working models that Google Knol is up against, not Wikipedia’s.
- Goal: “first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read”
- Articles are controlled by a single author, who has to use a real name.
- Collaboration: at the discretion of the lead author aka “moderated collaboration”
- Opinions are allowed and encouraged in articles, and there can be competing articles about the same subject.
- Knol may include ads at the discretion of the author, and profits shared
- Licensing of content is varied: can be CC-BY, CC-BY noncommercial, or traditional copyright
- “Google will not serve as an editor in any way”
- “So what subjects can I write on? (Almost) anything you like. You pick the subject and write it the way you see fit.”
As a result, most of the content that has emerged so far resemble the “practical” content sites as listed above:
how-to guides, health and medical advice, consumer/buyers guides, business/career pointers. These are exactly the things Wikipedia has insisted it does not want to be.
Don’t take my word for it, see the guidelines at [[What_Wikipedia_is_not]]
- Wikipedia is not a manual, guidebook, or textbook…
- A Wikipedia article should not read like a how-to style manual of instructions, advice (legal, medical, or otherwise) or suggestions, or contain how-tos. This includes tutorials, walk-throughs, instruction manuals, game guides, and recipes. If you are interested in a how-to style manual, you may want to look at wikiHow or our sister project Wikibooks.
The guidelines of Wikipedia also prohibit: personal essays, advocacy, opinion pieces on current affairs or politics, scandal mongering or gossip columns and self promotion.
Although Knol has been touted as a more responsible, moderated Wikipedia the above policies actually makes Knol much more liberal and uncontrolled than Wikipedia, which has many guidelines about what constitutes an article, what is acceptable content, and how to abide by its neutral point of view policy.
By throttling collaboration through a single lead author, you lose what has been Wikipedia’s hallmaark — the “piranha effect” of people building off each others’ work and evolving content beyond a single author’s knowledge.
Let’s put these criteria up side by side again:
|Barrier to entry||High
|Multiple similar articles||Yes||No|
|Deletion/editing among articles||No||Yes|
Let me pull out my journalism professor’s ruler and whap all the tech journalists on the wrist who have used this comparison. Let’s please stop pitting these two against each other.
From my feed of Yahoo News reporting on Wikipedia and Knol, here are my three tier ratings of how folks did on this story. I will not even bother hyperlinking to the stories I considered faulty analysis.
- Google launches Wikipedia rival Knol (ZDNet UK)
- Google Launches Its Challenge To Wikipedia With Wide Release Of Knol (paidContent.org via Yahoo! Finance)
- Google’s Wikipedia rival, Knol, goes public (CNET)
- Google Launches Its Challenge To Wikipedia With Wide Release Of Knol (CBS News)
- Google launches Wikipedia rival (IT World)
- Knol: Google Takes on Wikipedia (ReadWriteWeb)
- Knol, Google’s Version of Wikipedia, Goes Public (PC Magazine)
- Knol: (n.) Google’s version of Wikipedia (BetaNews)
- Google infiltrates the knowledge sharing game (SiliconIndia)
- Google unveils Wikipedia-like tool (Australian IT)
- Google’s Knol Launches: Like Wikipedia, With Moderation (Search Engine Land)
- Wikipedia, Meet Knol (New York Times)
- Google Launches Knol, The Monetizable Wikipedia (TechCrunch)
- Google Makes Knol Publically Available (EContent Magazine)
- Google Knol Launches; More Like Squidoo than Wikipedia (Mashable)
- Google Decides to Make its Knol Site a Moderated Wikipedia (Search Engine Journal)
- Knol is no Wiki (techkeyla.com)
And for those still debating the quality of “blogging vs journalism” issue, consider all the best sources for reporting on the Knol launch are, yes, blogs.