A Review of Knols
A Review of Knols
A creation of Google, Knols are touted as "authoritative articles," each of which is a "unit of knowledge." Based on the first few dozen or so I've perused, a better title for Knols would be "Op: A Unit of Opinion."
The main problem with Knols is what one commentator called "design incongruity." The stated purposes of Knols are to offer "authoritative articles" but also freedom of expression. It is hard to resolve these two very different purposes, and Knol does not succeed in doing so.
What Are Knols Exactly?
- Knols are units of opinion, not knowledge.
- They enable freedom of expression, but lack authoritativeness.
- They allow greater user control than wikipedia, but less organization.
Knols do enable freedom of expression; in fact, they look like vanity publishing on steroids. Their main appeal so far appears to be enabling people to publish wikipedia-like things without having to worry about others messing up their stuff (and without the related organization). And the comments at times descend to the same â€œfreedom of expression level seen in the comments on articles offered by online major news publications ("Obama is great!" "Obama stinks!")
The problem is that personal opinion alone does not confer authority, and Knol does not offer an antidote for this. The rating system doesn't seem robust enough to generate user-conferred authority. Most of the authoritativeness I've seen so far is derived externally, e.g., by authors' degrees (M.D.s etc.).
What Are Their Other Major Strengths and Weaknesses?
+ Knols offer the potential of high visibility and brand name recognition via Google.
+ A built-in rating system which is easy to read and use.
+ Decent analytics readily displayed -- number of page views etc.
+ Users seem to enjoy publishing there. From a comment in one of the featured knols:
"...I have had a similar experience with Wikipedia as many of the comment makers. I have tried to make a contribution to a few articles in Wikipedia on my subject area (Entrepreneurship) only to have it deleted by the likes of a self proclaimed poet and a new-age flower person. When I heard about the Knol project I jumped at the chance to share what I know, safe in the knowledge that my argument and content will not be hacked by faceless people whose expertise I least respect. So far, the Knol experience has been very worthwhile and so I will continue to make my contributions here."
- Most Knols, including featured ones, are text-heavy -- visually ugly and requiring much patience to read. The writing is quite often rather bad. For example, in a Knol entitled "easy ways to save money," the reader encounters this sentence in the second paragraph: "Before embarking on a savings plan, it's important to know about savings accounts and federal insurance protections on them." Huh? I thought this was about how to save money, not where to put my savings.
- Their ratings appear to have limited range and confer limited value. There are very few actual ratings; even the featured article I looked at had only eight ratings. It's either impossible or not readily apparent how to find out the breakdown of ratings, only the average (unlike Amazon, for example). Perhaps it's because it's still new, but there is not sufficient rating volume, nor a quality designation conferred by multiple reviews such as used by DSL Reports to rate vendors.
- Knols do not appear to induce participation effectively. The reviews/page view ratios I've seen are not impressive so far. For instance, one of the recently featured Knols has [as of todaqy] 3,252 views, 15 ratings, and 2 comments. In other words, <0.5% of viewers were moved to rate it, and <0.1% of viewers were moved to comment on it. One comment is that it's an excellent article. That sounds about right to me: only 0.03% of viewers will have the patience to read this entire article online and think it's excellent in this format.
- Knols are not particularly well-organized. For example, here is a description of a "Collaborative Books Project" which is a "project aimed to better organize knols" (which of course implies that knols need better organizing). (No word on how they'll determine whether or not an author is a "qualified professional.")
- Knols are very much a work in progress. For example, the collaboration status on author bios just changed very recently.
Knols are an interesting idea and concept which bears watching. Perhaps sometime soon they will evolve into a more provocative discussion about the nature of authoritativeness. At present, however, they are very much a hit-or-miss proposition -- mostly miss in my experience thus far...