"Crowd-sourcing" is really, really difficult, and Google has a spotted history with social software.
I took Knol for a test drive to see if it stands a chance of competing with Wikipedia.
Here's the video, if you can't see the embed.
Knol is different from Wikipedia in a lot of ways:
- The creator of a page can "own" it, approving and rejecting other people's edits
- There can be more than one page about a topic
- There are no hard-and-fast rules, just a rating-driven filtering system
- You can verify your identity (and not just by credit card!)
- Google has money to burn, so the interface doesn't look like it was designed by an engineering student circa 1974. (It looks like it was designed by an engineering professor who drives a Volvo.)
I was skeptical when Google announced the project last year, but this is pretty impressive (even though it's not all that useful yet).
The biggest flaw is the front page, which is disorganized, lacks a human touch (despite being composed of manually-tagged items) and doesn't convey any sort of comprehensive sweep. Almost all of the spotlighted articles are about depressing medical conditions, which is a big mistake -- it makes it look like knol is a less-organized version of webMD or something.
If Google manages to cultivate a sense of community, Knol actually stands a chance of becoming a small but significant competitor -- which is good, because Wikipedia needs an external kick in the pants to cut through the introspection.