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My first impressions of Google Knol

Google just launched "Knol" today (announced here on their blog). Back in january, I had written up a blog post - Will the knol be a knowall ?, so I was immediately curious to get a first hand experience. Here's my fresh off the oven first impressions of Google Knol in no particular order.

  • Current topics focused on healthcare : Most existing content seems to be focused on health care topics (at least the featured ones seem to).

  • Anyone can author a knol : If you have a google id, you can start writing up a knol. The blurb suggests that knols are authoritative but there doesn't seem to be any verification required for authoritativeness. If you can write a blog post or a wiki page - you can write your own knol.

  • Multiple knols can refer to the same topic : While any person can author a knol, multiple authors can create different knols all referring to the same topic.

  • Collaborative editing is supported (not the default): It is possible to create a knol and then invite additional authors / reviewers.

  • Name Verification is supported : Google has provided for name verification for the author. However for now it seems to be enabled only for US residents.

  • Nice user interface : The UI actually seems much nicer looking than most other google assets. It of course continues to offer nice usability like all google properties do.

I went ahead and wrote up my first knol Comparing and Contrasting Knols, Wikis and Blogs, just to get the feel of writing a knol. Here are my observations on a knol after writing one.

  • If you can write a blog or a wiki you can write a knol. : It doesn't take any more editing skill set to write a knol than it takes to write a blog post or a wiki. (Hardly surprising).

  • The focus is similar to writing an article : When you are writing a knol, somehow one feels pushed to write a relatively comprehensive article. Its possible to write a knol of a few lines / one paragraph, but I just suspect we won't see too many of them.

  • Revisioning is supported : Revisioning is automatic and supported. Readers can actually go back and read your earlier revisions or even run a diff across them. (Hmmm .. can't casually write something stupid and then just go back and update it with something lesser stupid).

  • Separate field for adding references : There's a separate field for adding references / citation. In Wikis / blogs - we just do it inline I guess. Kind of brings a more formal flavor to writing which requires these to be listed at the end.

  • Its like a time independent blog, or strongly individualized wiki : If you are writing a blog, but seem to be essentially writing long articles which are of an enduring nature, maybe a knol might be a more useful platform. Similarly if a number of authors are collectively contributing many articles on your wiki but each maintaining a set of articles independently, again a knol might be a useful thing to look at.

Implications on corporate environments Finally to come to my favourite topic of attempting to visualise how knols could get used in corporate intranets. I really couldn't think of knols adding much more to corporate intranets than wikis could. The existing format for wikis and blogs is in my opinion quite adequate for internal and possibly collaborative publishing requirements of corporate intranets. However I suspect that knols actually might be a nice way to publish external facing content from subject matter experts. I think corporates could look at implementing knols on their external facing web sites which could contain content authored by their CXOs or domain experts. The focus on author and his capabilities is likely to be better suited to this environment and may allow the content to be projected with a sense of strength that a casual wiki or perhaps even a blog is unlikely to be able to project. But for that someone needs to start writing a knol engine first.

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