Posted tagged ‘Knol’

Harry McCracken on Knol

3 September 2008

The purpose of today’s short blog is to draw further attention (where necessary) to three stimulating and informative articles by a senior IT expert and former Editor-in-Chief of the prestigious magazine PC World, Harry McCracken. The 3 timely contributions raise two separate but connected issues concerning the Google colossus: its voracious appetite for IT projects in very different fields and the recent unveiling to netizens of the beta version of Google’s penultimate tentacle, Knol, as a new (and commercial) competitor in the online encyclopedia market. (And only a few days ago the IT world witnessed the baptism of their Chrome Browser…)

In just under a year, McCracken has shared his changing views about Knol on three occasions:

a basically negative reception of the announcement of the Knol project:

16 December 2007: Knol: ‘Google Ennui Sets In, at Least For Me’;

an optimistic greeting of the recent launch of the first Knol beta offerings:

23 July 2008: ‘Knol’s Well: Google’s Encyclopedia Looks Cool’;

an expression of doubts about perceived weaknesses and inconsistencies in the Knol project based on a small sample of comparisons between the larger number of Knols currently available and Wikipedia offerings:

1 September 2008: ‘Google’s Knol: So Far, Not So Good’.

If you have not read Harry’s evidence and arguments contained in the latest of these three (which provides links to the two previous articles), I strongly recommend it to you.

Google’s Knol: So Far, Not so Good.

Of particular interest is that although, as McCracken admits, his opinion has twice veered sharply, there is a consistency in his concerns that in addition to its phenomenally successful stellar enterprises, Google has shown a tendency to launch projects which do not achieve the sort of resounding success that Google Search and Google Maps, for example, have garnered. McCracken’s reservation is that, although he still feels the idea of Knol is cool, on the present preliminary evidence, there is reasonable cause to suspect that Knol may end up as one of that second category.

Just one short quotation to whet your appetite further:

“…Google is better at getting things started than finishing them. Services like Google Base and Google Page Creator remain rough drafts at best, eons after they debuted. Even a company with resources as vast as Google can’t do everything and do everything well.”

In the two days following that blog article on 1 September 2008, Harry has already posted a barrage of articles about Google’s launch of the beta of their Chrome Web Browser project.

Perhaps he never sleeps.


300 Knols Released

29 July 2008

At long last 300 examples of ‘featured’ encyclopedic knols have been unveiled by Google (in late July 2008). The majority are on medical topics. Their authors are duly named and profiled. The first specimens look very impressive, but how fast can they multiply to become a true encyclopedia?

I chose to sample one of the five specially featured offerings, mainly because it was non-medical: ‘History of the Spanish Language’, by Professor David A. Pharies

This is listed as a “Closed Collaboration” but the facility to Review it (by other scholars) seems to be available. In addition readers are allowed to comment, after registering, but so far this has only attracted a few forum type congratulatory comments. Since commenters can get their photo published too, this should encourage too many readers to contribute unhelpful trivia. The interesting question is whether anyone will feel inclined to use the Comments section to offer small but potentially valuable contributions of constructive criticism or suggested additions.


The Contents

The very detailed treatment of the Spanish Language Myths show Professor Pharies’s special expertise in the phonetic development of Spanish.

Research works are either Cited or Suggested and the example of the professor’s recommendation of his own recent book (among the entries under Suggested Readings) as “the only true introduction to the history of Spanish available today” gives a further indication of the differences between this ambitious project and both Wikipedia and Citizendium.

Migraine sufferers are also in for a treat (and possibly some relief) with the excellent specially showcased Knol on that painful subject.

Fluctuating Specifications for Online Encyclopedias

5 July 2008

by Brian Steel

By the mid-1990s, the information needs of the growing Internet market were being served not only by online versions of traditional commercial encyclopedias like the Encyclopedia Britannica, Grolier’s New Book of Knowledge and the World Book Encyclopedia but by Microsoft’s vigorously marketed Encarta, which had begun to attract significant numbers of online customers. Both Encarta ( and Encyclopedia Britannica ( have maintained a high online profile during the innovative cyber-developments to be described below. (Surfers may even browse the articles of the 1911 (E.B.) edition at much more recent online presence, still in its beta stage, is the High Beam Encyclopedia (, which offers articles from the sixth edition of the Columbia Encyclopedia as well as newspaper and magazine references and a commercial backnumbers service for newspapers, magazines and journals.

At the turn of the century, Larry Sanger was hired by Jimmy Wales to organise the (short-lived) Nupedia project which was launched in March 2000. The aim was to attract encyclopedia entries from volunteer experts for eventual publishing as free content after peer review and approval. During the following twelve months of snail-pace progress, Sanger proposed to speed up the process with preliminary versions in wiki form (Wikipedia), involving voluntary contributions from any Users. Within a further year, this idea had produced such rapid progress that the original idea of articles by experts was discarded and Sanger left the company shortly afterwards. (Ironically, Wales would eventually be forced to reconsider and partially reinstate the experts theme into Wikipedia.)

In the intervening seven years, Wikipedia, financed by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation and supported by the enthusiastic efforts of thousands of eager volunteers, has been experiencing exponential growth, not only in English but in many other languages. It currently dominates the online encyclopedia field. There is no denying that the 2 million entries of this seething online co-operative venture is of incalculable daily value to its millions of users as a quick free source of reliable data on basic factual topics. On other topics it has proved to be much less satisfactory. (See ‘Wikipedia’s Grudging Recognition of its Self-imposed Limitations’.)

However, with Wikipedia’s success have come many problems and controversies and subsequent necessary adjustments to its rigid structure. For example, the following new departure was announced in mid-2006 with reference to the German Wikipedia:

“The German Wikipedia is set to introduce editing restrictions that may spread to other language versions if successful. This involves identifying a set of “trusted users” and allowing only their changes to be instantly visible. New contributors’ work would be moderated by these users, who might be selected on the basis of how long they have been on the site and the number of their edits that have gone unreverted.”


Incidentally, the following brief extracts from an announcement about the German version of Wikipedia (with its 700,000 articles) is of particular interest to those used to the conditions under which the English Wikipedia has notched up over 2 million articles of varying quality:

“The German Wikipedia is different from the English Wikipedia in a number of aspects.

There are severe rules of relevancy. Contemporary people usually have to reach a high level of fame before an article on them is allowed. […]

Many controversial articles are protected for months and cannot be edited by unsubscribed or recently subscribed users.”

The progress of Wikipedia in its initial rigid form has produced a great deal of alternative Internet activity from disillusioned editors, critics as well as from users and editors who have preferred to set up their own ‘forks’ or alternative Wiki encyclopedias to produce what they see as less inhibited or more permanent results. The most interesting of these forks are the following ones set up by non-English-speaking groups:



Spanish-speaking countries:

Perhaps the most interesting ‘fork’ is on display at

WikiPilipinas is a very interesting but also very localised offshoot, launched in mid 2007. It deals with Philippine-related topics, is non-academic, allows original research and is not bound by the NPOV principle. It presently contains 57,000 articles.

“WikiPilipinas is an encyclopedia dedicated to anything and everything that matters to Filipinos and the Philippines. It is an encyclopedia of Philippine content and includes elements of an almanac, directory and community pages. A centralized repository of Philippine content, it is intended to serve Filipinos anywhere in the world. Wikipilipinas allows Filipinos to document themselves in a manner they deem proper, whether or not it agrees with what foreign sources say.”

A strong indication that the management of Wikipedia is getting tired of the growing intensity of public criticism and disparagement of its inflexible rules and the instability of some of its articles through constant changes or “edit wars” is the recently launched feeder project ‘Veropedia’ (, to which Wikipedia writers of ‘good’ articles can apply for their articles to be saved INTACT.

Officially, Wikipedia announces this late 2007 development thus:

“Veropedia is a free, advertising-supported Internet encyclopedia project launched in late October 2007.[1][2]

“The site is based around collaboration within Wikipedia, whereby Wikipedia articles that meet Veropedia’s reliability criteria are chosen by its editors, scraped, and then a stable version of the article is kept on Veropedia. Any improvements required for articles to reach a standard suitable for Veropedia occur on Wikipedia itself. This model is intended to provide benefits to both projects with Wikipedia providing a large amount of free content suitable for potential improvement, and Veropedia contributors providing improvements and fact-checking within Wikipedia articles.[1][2][3]

As of April 2008 the site, still in beta, has checked and imported over 5700 articles[4] from the English Wikipedia into its public database.[5] Although Veropedia intends to eventually support itself completely through advertising as of January 2008 the project is run mainly from personal savings, investments and loans of those involved in the project.[6]

This novel choice for seasoned Wikipedian editors is openly solicited by a Wikipedia User named Moreschi (and perhaps other editors) with some of the Wikipedia edits he makes. They link (through a superscript hyperlink) to the following announcement:

“If you’ve written a quality article, here’s a suggestion about how to save your stable, quality version, and preserve it from vandalism, spam, POV-pushing, and the addition of inaccuracies that so often decrease the quality of Wikipedia articles over time. Want to really preserve your classy work for humanity? See it expert-reviewed? Get it uploaded to Veropedia (FAQ, see also my user and talk pages.)! You don’t have to do this yourself; though we welcome new contributors, if you feel you haven’t got the time, simply send an email to us suggesting your article as suitable for upload, or any other you might know of that you think good enough. To do this, go to the Main Page that I linked to above, put your mouse on the Contacts tab, and click “Suggest an article”. Cheers, Moreschi Talk 13:38, 10 November 2007 (UTC)”

Moreschi also makes this astonishing further comment on his Wikipedia User page:

“Veropedia is going to be taking up more and more of my time, and I would encourage others who care about Wikipedia’s articles to join in with our efforts there and help out. The best of my work has already been saved there as a quality stable version, and for that reason I do not regret the time I have spent on Wikipedia since March 2006. I’m not overly optimistic about Wikipedia’s condition at the moment, but it is not beyond repair. All it would take is for more to understand that truth is a woman, and she will not let herself be assailed with the cold bludgeons of policy.”

“I will still do everything important: contribute regularly to articles, put in the hours at the coalface at the Opera Project, write and discover quality content for Veropedia.”

The recent appearance of rival fledgeling Web encyclopedia Citizendium and Google’s announced Knol project (still under wraps since December 2007) add further incentives for incorporating greater flexibility into the Wikipedia system.

Citizendium [= Citizens’ Compendium], a project in preparation since 2005 by Larry Sanger.

Launched in early 2007, with the laudable aim of providing expert contributions under contributors’ own names, Citizendium also announced a feeder project called Eduzendium (proposed by Professor Sorin Matei) which would harness the talents of doctoral candidates. In spite of these attractive proposals, the project was not received very optimistically by experts as diverse as Professor Clay Shirky (a Wikimedia advisory board member) and Nicholas Carr, an eloquent critic of Wikipedia. After just over a year of publishing, the progress of this new online encyclopedia (with a non-charismatic name) does not seem very encouraging in terms of properly finished and approved articles.

Knol Web Encyclopedia

Announced in late 2007 by Google, also to consist of expert and peer-reviewed unalterable articles. Apart from one sample published, its initial work has so far been conducted in secret.

At the same time others have been setting up their own Wikipedia-derived encyclopedias and specialist groups have begun to offer restricted wiki-type encyclopedias.


A very serious scholarly restricted scientific Wiki, of value to specialists.


Also aimed at a restricted audience, this wiki-based encyclopedia is written “from a socially and American Conservative Christian viewpoint” in order to counter a perceived “liberal, anti-Christian and anti-American bias” in Wikipedia. Its editorial policies are guided by the “Conservative Commandments”.

Also to be taken into consideration in a survey of online encyclopedias are the offerings of those organisations which (in accordance with Jimmy Wales’s expressed philosophy and wishes) have copied Wikipedia, or parts of it, to their own websites, some of which permit further editing by visitors. Since each site downloads the copies at different times, they enshrine versions of Wikipedia articles which may subsequently undergo significant amendments. Such cyber-debris may therefore be misleading, or may preserve fossilised versions of controversial Wikipedia articles which have (long) since been ‘reverted’ in ‘edit wars’.

Caveat lector! (Online Encyclopedia readers should take care!)

PS If all of these bewildering sources of information become too much, it may be time for a brief ‘R & R’ visit to Uncyclopedia(hosted by Daniel Brandt).

Competition between Google and in two Information Markets

25 April 2008


The recent entry of Google into the online encyclopedia market (‘Knol’, announced in December 2007) and the equally bold counter move by Wikipedia’s original commercial sponsor, Wikia, Inc. into the Search engine market (‘Wikia Search’, launched on 7 January this year) signal direct mutual challenges by the two Internet giants. Whatever the eventual effects on their corporate Internet success, there are also interesting implications for millions of Internet users of these two essential types of instant online information as well as for other competitors in both of these cyber-arenas (encyclopedias and search engines).

The present study concentrates on the phenomenally successful but increasingly controversial (non-profit) Wikipedia product, whose enormous prestige is (rightfully) enjoyed by Wikia, Inc. Regardless of the outcome of the Wikia Search launch, this challenging Google ploy adds extra pressure on Wikipedia to reconsider its flawed open structure and accelerate the sorts of changes (including the recent Veropedia option) which it has already been obliged to introduce or contemplate over the past three years of intense criticism and embarrassments.

A similar study of the potential effect of Wikia’s move into the Search Engine market combined with a reassessment of Yahoo’s continuing progress in this market would also be welcome, especially to disgruntled users of Google Search. We live in interesting times.

Since the December announcement, little is on show about Knol on Google’s vast network of sites, except the display of a specimen article ( and the promise of further articles by experts (which are apparently in preparation). Meanwhile, the Wikia camp has already displayed the first fruits of its beta version of Wikia Search (, so preliminary impressions may be drawn. In spite of the instant condemnation by many professional commentators and bloggers and without offering a guarantee to this beta product, attention should be concentrated on how Wikia delivers on its promise to be “more transparent to end users”. For example, the ‘Discuss these results’ option for each search could eventually provide an alternative to those who find Google’s attitude to searchers and website owners too arcane and dictatorial. At the outset of this fascinating contest, the signs indicate that Wikia Search has the interesting potential to become the overdue selective Search Engine that many Netizens need, thereby, perhaps, having a positive influence on the bloated Search Engine Optimisation market. Any frivolous or commercial misuse by Wikia and CEO Jimmy Wales of this longstanding promise to deliver a truly discriminating Search Engine would deserve total public condemnation and flagellation by eagle-eyed Internet observers like Nicholas G. Carr.

IF Wikia fails to deliver the goods, someone else MUST take up the challenge and compound their shame.


Since 2001, Wikipedia has established itself as the most successful online encyclopedia. It has proved to be a basically excellent primary source on factual topics. Nevertheless, the seven years of Wikipedia’s phenomenal growth (in many languages) have also been punctuated with strong and vociferous criticism, controversies, complaints and embarrassments in connection with some of the unsatisfactory results produced by its totally open Wiki format. A growing snowball of Internet, media and academic literature expresses both praise and extreme dissatisfaction.


(The complete article (‘Internet Niche Markets. 1. Online Encyclopedias. Wikipedia and Others’) will soon be available on my web page: