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)