Udi Manber, VP of Engineering at Google, announced another foray of the ever-surprising Web giant. The project termed knol, a short-form for knowledge, aggregates knowledge from leading experts on various topics, essentially creating a global-scale encyclopedia.
The key idea behind the knol project is to highlight authors. Books have authors' names right on the cover, news articles have bylines, scientific articles always have authors -- but somehow the web evolved without a strong standard to keep authors names highlighted. We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of web content. At the heart, a knol is just a web page; we use the word "knol" as the name of the project and as an instance of an article interchangeably. It is well-organized, nicely presented, and has a distinct look and feel, but it is still just a web page. Google will provide easy-to-use tools for writing, editing, and so on, and it will provide free hosting of the content. Writers only need to write; we'll do the rest.
The blogosphere is calling it the Wikipedia killer or at least the upcoming challenge to it. Google's approach to highlighting authors is something missing from Wikipedia. Also to be noted is that Google will not own any content or take responsibility for it.
Wikipedia is not the only service that seems to be challenged here. Services like Squidoo, which highlights authors and content they create, and human-powered search engines such as Mahalo.com have tested the social knowledge pool waters.
Authors will gain from the ads based around the articles, and authors writing on the same topics get to compete for better ranking.
There's a lot of speculation as to whether Google now wants to generate its own content and the susceptibility of the new knowledge sites to spam. Larry Dignan of ZDNet provides a refined speculation that knol will perhaps add a knowledge management tool to Google's enterprise initiatives.