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Wikipedia vs Google grudge match July 31, 2008

Posted by cmvlibrarian in Information Sharing, Web 2.0.
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Google takes aim at Wikipedia. Photo by Djclear904 on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license http://tinyurl.com/y25aak

In a blow aimed squarely at Wikipedia Google recently announced its knowledge sharing service dubbed Google Knol.

According to Google a Knol “is an an authoritative article about a specific topic”. This sounds surprisingly similar to a Wikipedia article, however there are some major differences:

  • Most Knols only have one author
  • Google registration is required and author’s name as well as any credentials are prominently displayed
  • Users can rate Knols and the aggregate rating is prominently displayed

So Google’s set up a system where some topics are likely to have several different articles that can be screened by users easily via the author’s credentials and the article’s rating. This kind of system is likely to attract people who were turned off to Wikipedia due to disputes over content, as well as people looking to increase their name recognition in a particular field.

While Wikipedia currently trumps Google Knol in sheer number of articles (particularly those relating to pop culture) having to create a Google account seems a small constraint given the Web giant’s ubiquity. Still the critical factor in Google Knol’s success is going to be the quality of articles.

To compare article quality I examined the general HIV article from Wikipedia and the highest rated HIV article from Google Knol by Rick Hecht, a doctor in San Francisco (a search for HIV resulted in 10 Knols of varying quality). Both articles were of decent length, included a number of authoritative references, were organized according to a hyperlinked table of contents, discussed clinical and historical information about HIV, and linked to statistical information from UNAIDS. However some notable differences included:

  • The Knol was written more informally and was easier for a laymen to understand
  • The images in the Knol were incorporated into the article more efficiently to enhance clarity
  • Wikipedia’s article linked to a variety of related material and topics to encourage exploration
  • The references in the Wikipedia article were hyperlinked making their quality faster to evaluate

Despite the hype I’d say Google Knol is a promising complimentary platform to Wikipedia rather than a knock out blow to it. With Google Knol researchers new to a topic can quickly filter for higher quality material and evaluate controversial topics by reading multiple articles on the same topic from different points of view. Wikipedia’s more likely to have material of interest because of sheer number of articles and researchers are more likely to discover new information through serendipity. In short don’t count Wikipedia out yet but definitely add Google Knol to your research utility belt.