Today Google has launched Knol, its Wikipedia alternative that holds authors accountable for the articles they write. Each article is created by a team of authors who receive attribution, and are allowed to take part in a rev-share for AdSense ads on their page. Other users can submit changes, but they have to be approved by the article’s original authors before they go live on the site (it’s basically a moderated Wikipedia).
Google says that it will allow multiple people to create Knols on the same subject. Knol allows users to rate and review Knols, and will likely include ranking as part of search results so we don’t have to sift through countless articles on the same topics. You can see an example article (a Knol that tells you how to write Knols) here.
The big news here is that by assigning ownership and allowing authors to include AdSense ads on their articles, Google is effectively offering a monetary incentive to create good content. In theory, the best articles will get the most attention, and in turn the most revenue.
Unfortunately, this plan may backfire on Google. We’re going to start seeing a flurry of articles on the most popular content – expect to see dozens of biographies on Barack Obama and John McCain in the next few days. For these popular subjects the system should work well – a few lucky (and hopefully credible) articles will rise to the top, and the rest will fade away. But for less popular topics there won’t be any incentive for anyone to write anything.
Wikipedia works well because it’s almost like a charitable organization. Everyone contributes what they can in the hopes of furthering the world’s knowledge. Knol’s community will likely be far more concerned with earning money than the general welfare, which may hurt both its credibility and the amount of participation it sees from the community.