Marshall Kirkpatrick, PDX rockstar, has a great piece at RWW on Google's new "Knols" project. It's worth reading his full post, especially his conversation with wiki inventor (and Aboutus CTO) Cunningham. Kilpatrick's source was Google's own blog post, also worth a read.
Knols = "Units of Knowledge".
Imagine if every page in Wikipedia was its own freestanding page - or in Google parlance, a "Unit of Knowledge". And anyone could create any page, not subject to any editors. Or fact-checkers. These pages would come up in a Google search, and the Google users base would (by clicking) vote the most relevant to the top - as they do with current search results as a part of Google's overall algorithm.
How will you know whether what you read is accurate or unbiased? well, you won't. According to Google:
"All editorial responsibilities and control will rest with the authors. We hope that knols will include the opinions and points of view of the authors who will put their reputation on the line. Anyone will be free to write...once testing is completed, participation in knols will be completely open, and we cannot expect that all of them will be of high quality."
To ward off ill-intentioned knols, it appears, we'll have to count on the social commons:
"People will be able to submit comments, questions, edits, additional content, and so on. Anyone will be able to rate a knol or write a review of it. Knols will also include references and links to additional information."
What gets really interesting is that as Doubleclick info gets melded with Google's own library of your search results (which they have never said they would delete), aren't we going to be getting more customized (that is, better targeted to our preferences) information (and ads)?
One result may be that depending on what your search results and browser habits say about your potential proclivity for a particular flavor of knol on the topics of "gun control","abortion", "immigration", or any presidential candidate may generate results that hew to your algorithmically pre-determined skew.
Imagine a universe where everyone can read an encyclopedia tailored to them and their viewpoints? Where extremist views can be reinforced, walls maintained? Google suggests cross linking to opposing viewpoints, but don't most folks want reassurance that what they already think is right?
The good news?
"At the discretion of the author, a knol may include ads. If an author chooses to include ads, Google will provide the author with substantial revenue share from the proceeds of those ads."
Phew. That'll help me get to sleep at night. Here's a sample page from Google's post: