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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Is Google's Knol just a "Googlepedia" or can it be more?


Unfortunately, I 've read some disappointing blog articles comparing Knol with Wikipedia suggesting that Knol has nothing more to offer. The truth is that Knol has a tremendous potential but I feel that it has taken the wrong road. My proposal for Knol google team is to move from Knol-articles to Knol-Journals and introduce new online author collaboration tools (groups, mailing lists).


Charles Robert Darwin
(1809 – 1882)
Image by Flickr

I start my proposal with some basic biological principles. We all know that animals compete for food. If two different species compete for exactly the same kind of food in the same habitat, it is likely that one of those species will become extinct and the other will survive. This is a basic principle in evolutionary ecology. Why am I saying this? Knol has made a great mistake by starting like a “Googlepedia”. Wikipedia is a well established encyclopedia that Knol isn’t able to compete with. Knol is technically evolved and has the capacity to go much further than Wikipedia by reaching different “habitats” and utilizing different kinds of “food”. So first of all, it is crucial for Knol to clearly define different goals and make it clear that it’s not a simple “Googlepedia”, it’s much more. Knol needs a more creative adaptation in the internet “habitat” and Knol needs to reach unique sources (people) that other websites (like Wikipedia) can’t. 


Define your goals!
Image by Flickr

From my experience as a Knol user I noticed that most of Knol authors are people who already have ideas to publish online either because they are intellectualsauthorsscientists, students or may have already written a bookMy estimation is that more than 90% of Knol users worldwide have a wish someday to write and publish a book or write articles in a journal. Many have already contributed in other similar projects offline or online. Therefore Knol team must define (in statistical terms) the target group of Knolers and make it very clear on the knol.google.com main page! My proposal is that KNOL should target specific communities in order to thrive. A better introduction on the knol.google.com main page might say: 

  • Authors - Writers: publish your ideas online! 
  • Students (undergraduate or postgraduate): publish your notes online! 
  • Teachers & College/University Professors: publish your scientific documents / lectures / tutorials online! 
  • Meet online and collaborate with other writers, authors, students, Teachers, Professors, Publishers around the world

  • Setting the tone early on will help people understand what Knol is all about and will insure that more visitors stick around for the long term.

    Extra tool we need:
    Database of Knol authors: Every Knol author must specifically define his fields of interest and his intellectual work. He/she adds his/her official position (writer, scientist, teacher, student etc). For instance, I’m a medical student and I would love to use Knol as a tool to search for colleagues internationally and start together an online educational project, even a small one. Authors, students and teachers love this kind of collaboration! 


    Knol article is like any other article. You spend time writing it (alone or with collaboration) but in the end you need to publish it somewhere. Every blogger publishes articles in a separate subdomain like myblog.blogspot.com. This is why so many people, schools, colleges and organizations are willing to take the risk and start new blogs and promote their own ideas along with the subdomain and logo of their organization. On the other hand, today, if you publish Knol articles you depend on the Google search engine alone to be found.

    We need subdomains 

    The first conclusion is that we need a special short subdomain per user in order to promote selected knols shorted with tags and categories. Just like myname.blogspot.com. We also need a blog-like interface and the ability to apply themes, css code, categories etc. For this purpose I’m proposing the idea of Knol-Journal. Every Knol author will be able to create a new Knol article or a Knol-Journal. Knol articles will be listed under his/her profile (as it is now) and the Knol-Journal will look like a blog publishing only knol-articles.   
    Knol Journals
    Image by Flickr

    The Idea of Knol Journal 

    A Knol-Journal, in my mind, will have a cool online magazine interface (themes/templates) with tags and categories. The owner will be one or more people (like in blogs) who filter and publish some of their knols relevant to the subject of the Journal. 

  • Like any other journal they will ask other people to contribute andonly accepted knols will be published.  
  • Among other users, some schoolscolleges and universities will make the start and create online scientific or educational Journals(!!!). 
  • Of course all will ask for a separate subdomain

  • There will be journals where teachers/professors will filter the content and publish only qualified knols (as in any other journal). Knol.google.com main page will be able to promote the most visited or qualified journals. In this way Google “KNOL” brand name will be synonymous to scienceculture and/or ideas that can change the world! Now it’s mainly considered just a “googlepedia” competing Wikipedia.

    Knol-Journal is for blog what Facebook is for myspace

    Well -known scientists rarely contribute to online open collaborations (like blogs). On the other hand Facebook has managed to gain their trust. Why? Because in Facebook no one is anonymous! Knol is for blog what Facebook is for hi5 or myspace. In the same perspective, every knoler has an analytic profile and all knols have a strict academic structure (title, subtitle, summary, contents). This is very user-friendly for academics and the wiki-feature is extremely helpful for scientific or intellectual collaborations. Also in educational community students will collaborate and discuss with students and teachers from other universities. It will be a great place to publish your CV, your own scientific ideas and research for academic collaborations around the globe! I believe that a Knol -Journal with Knol-wikis have much greater potential than blogs just like Facebook has greater potential than myspace or hi5.  

    Knol Books & Encyclopedias
    Image by Flickr

    Knol-Journal, Knol-book, Knol-encylopedia 

    Today Google gives us the opportunity to start a new blog or new knol article with a strict academic structure (title, summary, contents). Imagine giving the opportunity to people build in their own subdomains new Journals (knols presented with categories and tags) or new Knol-books (knols organized in chapters) or new Knol-encyclopedias (specially organized knols). Imagine having the ability toexport the journal (or book or encyclopedia) in pdf format for print that corresponds to the structure of a Journal, book or encyclopedia!


    A good idea is the ability to create Knol working groups with a common mailing list. In googlegroups, unfortunately, all messages can’t be edited and this is the main reason why we stopped using it in my university class. The main idea is to provide authors the ability to edit their thoughts (wiki-articles) and communicate better in a common working group sharing a common mailing list. 


    All in all, I propose that Knol must stop thinking and acting like a googlepedia. Instead, Knol has all the technology to offer a complete online publishing solution for intellectuals, writers and academics (teachers/students) providing:
    1. Authors and co-Authors (searchable database with authors)
    2. Articles (=knols)
    3. Special publishing structures like blogs(=knol Journals, Knol-books, Knol-encyclopedias)
    4. Organizing tools for authors (Groups and mailing lists)

    Panagiotis (Panos) G. Peteinatos

    Panagiotis Peteinatos

    Biologist & Medical Student (University of Athens)


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