After posting about Google's knol pilot elsewhere, I wanted to emphasize one aspect here: one competitive thrust is against Citizendium. The far larger target is Wikipedia, of course, given its huge prominence, influence, Google search ranking, and deeply felt bad reputation. But Citizendium is closer to knols in several key respects, as several commentators have noted (Ars Technica, for example).
Although it draws on the wiki approach, Citizendium's key difference is articles whose primary content is created by "real names and guidance by expert editors." Those two features - names and experts - are crucial to knol, and not at all to Wikipedia. The naming is major issue for some critics, such as historians, trained in sourcing content. knol emphasizes naming even more prominently than does the Citizendium, if the Googleblog sample picture is any guide.
This approach certainly draws on web 2.0 personalization, and even the social graph notion. But in terms of informatics, this represents a clear move towards named, identified sources, which should appeal to many educators and scholars. If this takes off, and Google's previous experience with Answers might give us caution, Citizendium will be seriously threatened. Google's vastly greater name recognition, integration with other services, and growing education presence will see to that. As Ars Technica notes,
While Wikipedia itself is diverse enough to survive, smaller projects like Citizendium could find the going much tougher.
Larry Sanger takes a different tack. First, he argues that Google's primary target is Wikipedia, which would certainly make sense when it comes to market share. Second, he thinks that knols won't come anywhere near competing with his Citizendium, since
Google is entering head-to-head competition with Wikipedia — not so much with the Citizendium (thankfully, we have a different niche: quality)
I'm not convinced that knols won't compete on that level. It's hard to get at the project now, given its secrecy, but this seems to be precisely where Google hopes to compete. Listen to the blog post:
Our goal is to encourage people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it.
The selection mechanism is mysterious at this point, and the post avoids the term "expert", but that seems to be the angle of approach.
Sanger goes on to argue that knols won't attract a great deal of participation, but this is not altogether convincing. He sees a
lack of buy-in from the free culture crowd. Many of the sort of people who contribute knowledge to projects like Wikipedia and the Citizendium are likely to be very skeptical of a giant corporation organizing such a project
We're waiting for Siva Vaidkyanathan to offer his first take on this, but Google's sheer range mitigates against an anti-corporate-informatics movement scotching knols. Far too many people are into the Googlesphere, especially given how relatively few would be need to knol.
Moreover, as Peter Suber and others have noted, the Googleblog sample image (sampled to right) hints that Creative Commons licenses are possible, perhaps by user choice a la Flickr.
Further, it's not realistic to rule out self-interest in knol creation. Many would be motivated by the possibilities of Google ad lucre, especially if Google results push knols to the top of results lists. Ditto for reputation growth.
Again, I'm not writing about knol-Wikipedia competition in this post. Nor am I suggesting that the Googlesphere has targeted Citizendium as a major competitor. I am not celebrating our knol overlords, nor discounting either another failure, a la Answers, or the possible effects of an anti-corporate movement against Googlized informations. Instead, the point is simply that knols are a real threat to Citizendium.
Should we check stats in a year, comparing knols and Citizendium? Perhaps number of articles, or word count, or some stab at user base.