Google unveils Wikipedia rival

Google is preparing to launch its own rival to Wikipedia.

Knol – which stands for unit for knowledge – bears an uncanny resemblance to the web’s most popular encyclopaedia. All of the entries are user-generated and edited, with Google providing “easy editing tools” and hosting the service.

Unlike Wikipedia, however, Google plans to make article authors accountable by publishing their real profile alongside each entry.

“The key idea behind the Knol project is to highlight authors,” says Udi Manber, vice president of engineering at Google on the company’s official blog.

“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.”

In a thinly-veiled strike at Wikipedia, Google says it wants Knol to become the premier source of online knowledge. “A Knol on a particular topic is meant to be the first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read,” says Manber. “The goal is for Knols to cover all topics, from scientific concepts, to medical information, from geographical and historical, to entertainment, from product information, to how-to-fix-it instructions.”

Yet, despite its lofty goals, Google concedes accuracy will remain as much a problem for Knol as it is for Wikipedia. “Once testing is completed, participation in Knols will be completely open, and we cannot expect that all of them will be of high quality,” Manber concedes.

Top search rankings

In another potential blow to Wikipedia – which often ranks highly in search engines – Google says it will make sure Knol entries feature prominently in its search results.

“Our job in Search Quality will be to rank the Knols appropriately when they appear in Google search results. We are quite experienced with ranking web pages, and we feel confident that we will be up to the challenge. We are very excited by the potential to substantially increase the dissemination of knowledge,” says Manber.

Google hasn’t revealed when Knol will be launched, but if past history is anything to by, a public beta won’t be too far away. “The tool is still in development and this is just the first phase of testing. For now, using it is by invitation only. But we wanted to share with everyone the basic premises and goals behind this project,” says Manber.

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