Do You Know What a Knol Is?

- July 28, 2008

“Knolling” may not be in our everyday vernacular yet, but if past leaps from web-speak to daily jargon are any indication it just may enter our general lexicon sooner than you might realize. Just as “google” became a verb or the concept of a “wikipedia” thoroughly eradicated the notion of “encyclopedias” from the minds of contemporary teens and tweens, so too may “knolling” be the wave of the future. With its launch last week, Google’s Knol seeks to revolutionize online knowledge management.

Unlike Wikipedia, which serves as the online version of a democratized encyclopedia where anyone can collaborate and contribute to an article or post in order to build a central spot for explaining, defining, and cataloging our world — from the sublime to the mundane – Knol’s chief purpose is simultaneously simpler and more lofty. Cedric Dupont, the product manager for Knol, said “We’re not trying to build an encyclopedia. That’s a very focused product. Wikipedia has a great product, but that’s not what we’re doing. What we’re building is a place for people to store their bits of knowledge, and each of these bits come with the author bios and opinions and clearly that’s very different from an encyclopedia. We hope many of these knols and their authors will be referenced by Wikipedia and encyclopedias and help them.”

The site’s tagline reads: “A knol is an authoritative article about a specific topic.” The intention is that the level of expertise of the knols will be significantly high, and closely peer reviewed, as a result of their non-anonymous authorship; and also that their will be multiple knols on the same topic, as opposed to one centralized wiki post that is added to and amalgamated over time. The result? More open dialogue and discussion straight from experts in one centralized, extremely easy- and powerful-to-search location. As opposed to Wikipedia, authors on Knol must divulge their identity, and knols will be “locked” for editing unless the originating author grants access to a contributor(s). This adds credibility to knols that many wikis notoriously lack. Another sharp difference between the two is that ad revenues can be generated (if an author opts to have ads displayed with his/her knol) and shared between the author and Google.

Ultimately, the goal is to offer a forum for experts to collaborate on a global scale (well, an English-language global scale, until additional language versions roll out) and the likelihood for authors to gain “celebrity” for their contributions, as opposed to their lack of notoriety on Wikipedia, is one of many possible results. This knol-fame could be harnessed as part of online reputation management, could fodder link juice, spur viral/wom marketing, and generally increase exposure for brands, corporations, and individuals.

In addition, Knol has other possible implications that will impact SEO. First, there’s a question of whether knol posts will now usurp the top spots often held by Wikipedia articles in Google’s SERPs. It’s yet to be seen, but definitely a concern in terms of keeping the results “impartial.” Second, as with the introduction of any new online application or channel, many less-than-ethical webmasters and users have probably already devised schemes to “game” the SERPs and have their “knols” rank higher than other pages. Finally, will there be SEO value and weight in links to and from knols? Or will they eventually employ “no follows” in the same manner as Wikipedia in order to prevent abuse and spam? If the channel takes off, it will be interesting to note how its SEO opportunities shrink or multiple based on usage, relevance, and impact.

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