Friday, December 14, 2007

Google's Knol Initiative and Knowledge Networking

Lots of discussion today about Google's Knol initiative...
Earlier this week, we started inviting a selected group of people to try a new, free tool that we are calling "knol", which stands for a unit of knowledge. Our goal is to encourage people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it. The tool is still in development and this is just the first phase of testing. For now, using it is by invitation only. But we wanted to share with everyone the basic premises and goals behind this project.
The key idea behind the knol project is to highlight authors. Books have authors' names right on the cover, news articles have bylines, scientific articles always have authors -- but somehow the web evolved without a strong standard to keep authors names highlighted. We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of web content. At the heart, a knol is just a web page; we use the word "knol" as the name of the project and as an instance of an article interchangeably. It is well-organized, nicely presented, and has a distinct look and feel, but it is still just a web page. Google will provide easy-to-use tools for writing, editing, and so on, and it will provide free hosting of the content. Writers only need to write; we'll do the rest.
Much of the discussion in the blogosphere is about the impact Knol will have on other knowledge-oriented services like Wikipedia and Squidoo. Larry Dignan at ZDNet offers a different slant on Knol...
Google Knol is initially being portrayed as a Wikipedia killer and perhaps a threat to Yahoo Answers, but there is a key difference that worth noting. Wikipedia is a community effort. Google Knol will highlight authors. If John Doe is an expert on something he can share that knowledge through Google Knol.

That author distinction makes me wonder if Google Knol could really become more of a knowledge management application. Knowledge management software has been around forever in the enterprise, but never quite caught on en masse. The biggest reason: Employees like to hoard knowledge and don’t want to share much because they become less valuable.

For companies, however, collecting institutional knowledge is critical. If you’re a utility that has one third or more of your workforce retiring in the next two years, you better figure out how to store key information. Most of this information isn’t textbook material–it’s little day to day workarounds that make the business more efficient.

That’s why Google Knol could be interesting. Of course, not all of the content will be worthy, but Google’s approach–if it works–may be worth adopting in the enterprise somehow via an API and a filter that aggregates employee expertise.
I agree with Larry. I have been writing a lot about a concept I call, "knowledge networking". It's kind of like social networking but it's less about "who knows who" and more about "who knows what". We have enough services available, in both the consumer and business worlds, that help us with the "who knows who" problem. We don't have much available when it comes to "who knows what". Google's Knol initiative could be a good step in that direction.

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