Google Knol brings back accountability

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A knol is an authoritative unit of knowledge. Or so says Google. One could fairly describe Knol as Google's effort to elbow into the information compendium corner of the internet, which is currently dominated by Wikipedia. Google's new venture, which was recently opened to the public, invites registered users to write articles on subjects within their area of expertise. Sounds familiar, right? But there's a major distinction between Knol and Wikipedia, one which is immediately apparent with just a quick glance at Knol's front page: All of the articles are bylined. Whereas Wikipedia articles can be compilations of the work of dozens or even hundreds of essentially anonymous contributors, knols are authored by users whose full names appear at the top of each article. Many authors have publically accessible biographical profiles. Unlike Wikipedia, knols can only be edited by others if the original author permits it. And while Knol is policed for inappropriate content--such as pornography and hate speech--it doesn't offer any editorial support. (In other words, you won't find disclaimers on knols such as "The neutrality of this article is disputed.")

The inevitable question is whether Knol will become a viable Wikipedia competitor. Observers such as Christopher Dawson of ZDNet believe that Knol has positioned itself to delegitimize Wikipedia once and for all. "Its focus on accountability and ownership makes it a better choice for students and teachers," he said on the blog. Whether Wikipedia or Knol should ever be considered valid reference sources for students and teachers is another question entirely.

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