|This article's factual accuracy may be compromised due to out-of-date information. (December 2012)|
A knol on knee surgery
|Slogan||Knol, a unit of knowledge|
|Type of site||Reference|
|Available language(s)||English, Korean, Arabic, German, Dutch, Italian, French, Spanish, Japanese, Russian, Hebrew, Portuguese, Hindi|
|Launched||July 23, 2008|
|Current status||Closed (contributors could download their own data until October 1, 2012); replaced by Annotum|
Knol was a Google project that aimed to include user-written articles on a range of topics. The project was led by Udi Manber of Google, announced December 13, 2007, and was opened in beta to the public on July 23, 2008 with a few hundred articles mostly in the health and medical field. Some Knol pages were opinion papers of one or more authors, and others described products for sale. Some articles were how-to articles or explained product use. Other people could post comments below an article, such as to refute opinions or reject product claims.
Lower-case, the term knol, which Google defined as a "unit of knowledge", referred to an article in the project. Several experts saw Knol as Google's attempt to compete with Wikipedia, while others pointed out the differences between the projects.
On January 16, 2009, Google announced that Knol had grown to 100,000 articles, and users from 197 countries visited Knol on an average day. On November 22, 2011, Google announced that Knol was to be phased out in favor of Annotum. It was closed on April 30, 2012, and all content was deleted by October 1, 2012.
Knol pages were "meant to be the first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read", according to Udi Manber. Any contributors can create (and own) new Knol articles, and there can be multiple articles on the same topic, each written by a different author. At least one reviewer has decried the hundreds of repetitive entries that result from this system. Because multiple articles could have the same title, readers found a topic by searching, rather than just by title. The authors had an option to allow their articles to be edited by the public, to make them editable only to co-authors or to make them closed entirely.
Knol had a content policy describing topics unacceptable for the project. Relevant nudity was allowed (in most countries), but pornography, commercial or otherwise, was forbidden. Also forbidden is discriminatory or violent content. In 2008 Google began promoting Knols as a forum for debate.
Content designed to promote businesses, products or services was allowed, but articles devoid of substantive content and created solely to generate ad revenue were not. Authors could also choose to include ads from Google's AdSense to their pages. This profit-sharing was criticized as incentivizing self-promotion or spam.
All contributors to the Knol project had to sign in first with a Google account and are supposed to state their real names. If permission is given, Google would check the veracity of the name information by credit card or phone (currently only for users residing in the US). Google "[believes] that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of web content", and it hopes that "knols will include the opinions and points of view of the authors who will put their reputation on the line".
Readers with Google accounts were able to rate, comment on, or suggest edits to the articles, in the style of comments after a blog entry. When the project was announced, Manber said that "Google will not serve as an editor in any way, and will not bless any content. All editorial responsibilities and control will rest with the authors."
All contributions were licensed by default under the Creative Commons CC-BY-3.0 license (which allows anyone to reuse the material as long as the original author is named), but authors were also able to choose the CC-BY-NC-3.0 license (which prohibits commercial reuse) or traditional all rights reserved copyright protections instead.
Knol has been described both as a rival to encyclopedia sites such as Wikipedia, Citizendium, and Scholarpedia and as a complement to Wikipedia, offering a different format that addresses many of Wikipedia's shortcomings. The non-profit Wikimedia Foundation, which owns the name Wikipedia and the servers hosting the Wikipedia projects, welcomed the Google Knol initiative saying that "The more good free content, the better for the world." While Wikipedia articles are written collectively under a "neutral point of view" policy, Knol will highlight personal expertise by emphasizing authorship and, like articles provided on Squidoo, HubPages, and Helium.com, Knol pages will contain the personal opinions of the author.
Despite the official Wikimedia response and the differences in format, former Wikimedia Foundation chair Florence Devouard expressed concern over Knol's potential threat to Wikipedia in terms of the competition it would create. After Knol's beta launch, Google product manager Cedric Dupont responded to the idea that Google intended Knol to be a "Wikipedia killer" by saying, “Google is very happy with Wikipedia being so successful. Anyone who tries to kill them would hurt us.” The New York Times noted similarities in design between Knol and Wikipedia, such as use of the same font. Dupont responded that the use was simply a coincidence as it is a commonly used font.
Because of Knol's format, some said Knol would be more like About.com than Wikipedia. According to Wolfgang Hansson, a writer at DailyTech, Knol may have been planned for About.com originally when it was up for acquisition. Hansson reported that several sources close to the sale said Google was planning to acquire About.com, but the executives at About.com learned Google was planning to move from About.com's model to a wiki-style model. That would have meant layoffs for all 500 or so "Guides" at About.com.
Conflict of interest
There has been debate whether Google search results can remain neutral because of possible conflict of interest. According to Danny Sullivan, the editor of Search Engine Land, "Google’s goal of making Knol pages easy to find on search engines could conflict with its need to remain unbiased." Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, raised similar concerns: "At the end of the day, there's a fundamental conflict between the business Google is in and its social goals. What you're seeing here, slowly, is Google embracing an advertising-driven model, in which money will have a greater impact on what people have ready access to." As a response to such concerns it has been pointed out that Google already hosts large amounts of content in sites like Google Sites, YouTube, Blogger and Google Groups and that there is no significant difference in this case. Nicholas G. Carr, a frequent technology commentator, dismissed predictions of Google manipulating results saying that Google is hoping the most popular Knol pages will rise naturally through the search results, challenging Wikipedia and providing another area of content that can carry Google ads.
Since Google's announcement in December 2007, there has also been speculation on its motives and its position as a producer of content rather than as an organizer. The Guardian's Jack Schofield argued that "Knol represents an attack on the media industry in general."
In November 2011 Google announced that Knol would be phased out. Content could be exported by owners to the WordPress-based Annotum. Knol was closed on April 30, 2012, and all content was deleted by October 1, 2012. Between these dates the content was not viewable, but was downloadable and exportable.
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- See the french knol : "Pourquoi Knol et Wikipedia ne sont pas concurrrents"
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