Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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Googlepedia/Knol and Wikipedia

December 19th, 2007 by Seb Chan

Open Culture provides a withering examination of Google’s Knol project and in so doing draws out some of the strengths of the Wikipedia approach in terms of collaborative production.

In the discussion of the Knol project, Dan Colman speaks of some the fundamental shortcomings in the Knol approach, shortcomings that Wikipedia’s approach has been able to get around. Whilst museums have been hesitant to engage with Wikipedia, the high volume ‘open’ approach to content creation holds a lot of opportunity for museums versus the traditional very low volume ‘closed’ top down approach.

Although the screenshot provided by Google nicely featured a Stanford University scholar writing on “Insomnia,” the reality is that few experts of this stature will take the time to contribute. Take my word for it. I’ve spent the past five years trying to get scholars from elite universities, including Stanford, to bring their ideas to the outside world, and it’s often not their first priority. They just have too many other things competing for their time. More often than not, Google’s knols will be written by authors with lesser, if not dubious, credentials. The mediocre entries will be many; the great ones, few. And this will leave Google’s content in a weaker position relative to Wikipedia.

To be clear, Wikipedia’s overall talent pool may not be much better. But Wikipedia’s model has an important built-in advantage. A community of writers focusing on the same text will correct one another and improve the overall product over time. The final text becomes greater than the sum of its authors. Meanwhile, Google’s model, which will produce a proliferation of lackluster entries on the same subject, doesn’t include any kind of strong self-correcting mechanism that will improve the entries.

(hat tip to Chronicle of Higher Education)

Tags: 3 Comments

  • It’s worth also considering the point made at Tech Crunch, that the licencing model of Wikipedia content and the potential for a share of the ad revenue at Knol may result in all the content from the former being simply copied onto the latter by people keen for a little pin money, thus giving Google all the advertising it covets but which Wikipedia won’t deliver, by nicking its content.

  • Hi Jeremy

    I agree – the ad revenue model will really need to be managed well.

    I do wonder which enterprising museum will be first to populate Knol with its authoritative content to generate said ‘pin money’.

    I know there is a high degree of wariness around museums ‘contributing’ to the Wikipedia project, despite the obvious opportunity to feed content into the public knowledgepool.

  • Hi Seb, yes it does look like a good opportunity, although many museums (ours included) are shy of including advertising. For example we use Google Co-op without ads, but then perhaps if we got a share of the revenue we’d change our minds :-)
    To my mind it’s likely that the greatest deterrent to many museums doing much with Knol or Wikipedia is/will be the amount of time that is required to create content of sufficient quality to deserve the brand. Perhaps more precisely, the hassle of making the case to those who might provide the resources the do the job well. People like us see the opportunity, but people who’d actually make the content need convincing of its worth. A book publishing project has prestige and an established role for museums, and would hopefully be funded appropriately so that the content is good enough. Demonstrating that the prestige and worth of a contributing to a web encyclopedia is also sufficient to justify such resources is quite a hurdle. Hopefully some trail-blazer will appear that we can point to to demonstrate the case.