Will Google's Knol Kill Wikipedia?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Most of the giants start thinking alike after they grow up to a certain size, whether its Microsoft, who wants its foot in almost everything that happens in the computing world, or now Google, who wants its head in every possible online possibility. The popularity of Wikipedia had been worrying Google for a long time and last year (2007), Google hinted of a new online property Knol which was inspired by Wikipedia.
According to a Google blog, announcing the launch of the website, "The key principle behind Knol is authorship. Every knol will have an author (or group of authors) who put their name behind their content. It's their knol, their voice, their opinion. We expect that there will be multiple knols on the same subject, and we think that is good. With Knol, we are introducing a new method for authors to work together that we call "moderated collaboration." With this feature, any reader can make suggested edits to a knol which the author may then choose to accept, reject, or modify before these contributions become visible to the public. This allows authors to accept suggestions from everyone in the world while remaining in control of their content. After all, their name is associated with it!"

The blog further adds that knols include strong community tools which allow for many modes of interaction between readers and authors. On Knol, people will be able to submit comments, rate, or write a review of a knol. It will also allow an author to generate revenue from the content by including ads from Google's AdSense programme. If an author chooses to include ads, Google will provide the author with a revenue share from the proceeds of those ad placements. Google is one of the best players around who know how to integrate properties.

However, on the licensing side of the Knol, the license for authors is a bit different from the one that Wikipedia uses. Wikipedia content is currently under GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL), a copyleft license permitting the redistribution, creation of derivative works, and commercial use of content while authors retain copyright of their work. On the contrary, for Knol, Google uses the most liberal CC license -- CC Attribution -- as default. Giving author full freedom and control on the content, Google also enables an author to choose CC Attribution-NonCommercial or All Rights Reserved.

This usage of different licenses by the two players leads to a major interoperability issue between the content posted on the sites. Creative Commons website explains this, "As prior to its launch Knol was often speculatively compared to Wikipedia, it should be noted that the default Knol license (CC BY) could permit using Knol content in Wikipedia (with attribution of course), but knols under more restrictive options could not be incorporated into Wikipedia. On the other hand Wikipedia content could not be incorporated into knols (except in the case of fair use of course), even in the case Wikipedia migrates to CC BY-SA — Knol doesn’t offer a copyleft license."

Wikipedia is now shifting from GFDL license to Creative Commons license. They [Wiki] say that the reason behind the switch is "because the GFDL, initially designed for software manuals, is not suitable for online reference works and because the two licenses are currently incompatible."

So, lets see how Google will topple Wikipedia, or will Knol be yet another project like many others still boiling in Google's cooker!

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