Will the knol be a knowall ?

Thu 03 January 2008 | tags: web

Google set off this new term knol (unless it has been around before and I am not aware of it) in this blog post .

First of all the screenshot is both attractive and impressive. While this has more to do with the folks who created it rather than the concept of a knol, it sure seems like a screen design worthy to take on "Wikipedia":http://www.wikipedia.org .

As an aside seems to be that four letter words are rather becoming the in thing in the recent contribution to english language : blog, wiki, and now knol.

There's already some speculation out there whether this will mean a google taking on wikipedia, about , or a whole host of other sites that are being talked about.. I don't intend to speculate on that here. One of the apparently salient points about a knol is the fact that each knol is authored or primarily edited by one person, whose information is boldly displayed.

There are cases where content needs to be personalised and others when it needs to primarily collaborative. Wikipedia and many community maintained wikis are a great example of collaborative content, whereas blogs under most circumstances offer very personalised (ie. individually authored - not individually tailored) content. This is a reflection of whether the content needs to be a community or an individual view.

Another dimension is the targeted persistence duration of the content. A blog posting like this may be far less relevant a year down the road, than say an article that I write on this blog.

Wiki or Knol

Clearly individual views gain much more importance when the content

  • requires a much higher level of expertise or a very individual view (eg. a political analysis)
  • is focused towards a far more specific topic, (eg. a thesis summary or a scientific journal paper)
  • requires internal consistency of arguments that only an individual author / editor can provide (eg. regarding a medical procedure)

I can think of medical sciences, a thesis summary or political journalism as examples which require individual views.

Community views are likely to be more important when the content

  • requires collective wisdom (eg. FAQs, many wikis for example those maintained by apache.org or many other opensource projects)
  • is targeted to a non expert audience who want a summary across a variety of views (eg. most wikipedia searches we end up doing)
  • requires plurality of views for the reader to reach his own judgement (again wikipedia)

Seems to me knols and wikis will be required to coexist since they are sufficiently non overlapping in their content requirements and target audiences.

Blog or Knol

I believe there is a lot more overlap between these two. The difference perhaps is in the aggregation.

  • Where a blog might implicitly focus on the author, the knol might do so explicitly.
  • Where each blog allows a tremendous scope for individual expression independent of the basic content (eg. look and feel, writing styles, nature of editorial overview etc.), a knol may end up limiting some amount of that expression.
  • While a blog author needs to work hard to get eyeballs, a presenter in a knol might have a fair amount of help from the aggregating site.
  • Whereas blog aggregators tend to maintain hyperlinks, knol aggregators will be hosting the content themselves.
  • While blogs allow for easy publication of content which is much more temporal in nature (eg. quick thoughts and asides), knols might end up focusing on content which is much more enduring and persistent.

So could knols end up being collectively hosted blogs ? Not really but theres going to be some interesting interplay I shall have to wait to find out. Will knols be knowalls ? I surely doubt it.

There's a whole set of thoughts I have about the implication of this for corporate knowledge sharing .. but I think I shall "knol" about that later. :)