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Google's Alternative to Wikipedia Mostly Mirrors It
Scores of articles in the recently released Knol Web site are verbatim copies of Wikipedia entries
Carlos Arturo Serrano Gomez (carturo222)     Email Article  Print Article 
Published 2008-07-30 04:20 (KST)   
If you have been browsing the Web for long enough, you may have already noticed that information overload has become epidemic. In fact, with the increasing number of Web sites out there and the countless users who contribute to their traffic and growth, the size of the problem is not even news.

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Any tool that could help us to organize and prioritize that inhuman amount of content should be welcome. Wikipedia is the most notable utility that comes to mind. Despite its flaws, it is vast, detailed and easily correctable. Wikipedia takes advantage from the fact that the Web lends itself more readily to a collaborative approach than other media; and the view that everyone knows something valuable has a special appeal among readers.

With some variations, Google has released to public use its own reference source, called Knol. Following Google's history of making up a word technically incorrect yet easier to remember than the right one, a "knol" is defined as "a unit of knowledge." Each article in this Web site is intended to be "an authoritative article about a specific topic." (For those who wish to read a full description of the process leading to this development, Wired magazine has done an excellent coverage of it.)

Since Knol was made public just last week, not much progress over the beta version should be expected. Indeed, what I discovered while making sample searches about main topics was disappointing. Except for the times when I found a long list of highly personal essays unrelated to my search, most of the themes that are covered display mirrored versions of Wikipedia articles on the same subjects. This would not be remarkable if only a handful of users were doing this. But the unabashed mirroring extends through an incredible amount of articles.

Examples

Science and Technology

- Wikipedia and Knol on Mineral processing
- Wikipedia and Knol on Alcohol
- Wikipedia and Knol on Water
- Wikipedia and Knol on the Sun
- Wikipedia and Knol on Mars
- Wikipedia and Knol on Computers
- Wikipedia and Knol on Evolutionary computation
- Wikipedia and Knol on Hurricanes
- Wikipedia and Knol on Microsoft Exchange Server

Geography

- Wikipedia and Knol on Ethiopia
- Wikipedia and Knol on Brazil
- Wikipedia and Knol on Estonia
- Wikipedia and Knol on the United States
- Wikipedia and Knol on New York City
- Wikipedia and Knol on Ireland
- Wikipedia and Knol on Japan
- Wikipedia and Knol on the Persian Gulf
- Wikipedia and Knol on Dokdo
- Wikipedia and Knol on Mumbai
- Wikipedia and Knol on Mulund

Politics and History

- Wikipedia and Knol on Hillary Clinton
- Wikipedia and Knol on Barack Obama
- Wikipedia and Knol on George W. Bush
- Wikipedia and Knol on John McCain
- Wikipedia and Knol on Winston Churchill
- Wikipedia and Knol on World War II
- Wikipedia and Knol on Adolf Hitler
- Wikipedia and Knol on Martin Luther King Jr.
- Wikipedia and Knol on George Washington
- Wikipedia and Knol on King Sejong
- Wikipedia and Knol on Mahatma Gandhi
- Wikipedia and Knol on the Indian independence movement

Business and Economics

- Wikipedia and Knol on Coca-Cola
- Wikipedia and Knol on Deere & Company
- Wikipedia and Knol on VMware
- Wikipedia and Knol on Microsoft
- Wikipedia and Knol on Bill Gates
- Wikipedia and Knol on Mortgage
- Wikipedia and Knol on Loan
- Wikipedia and Knol on Insurance
- Wikipedia and Knol on Online advertising
- Wikipedia and Knol on SEO
- Wikipedia and Knol on eBay
- Wikipedia and Knol on Business
- Wikipedia and Knol on B2B commerce

Entertainment

- Wikipedia and Knol on Cinematography
- Wikipedia and Knol on MTV
- Wikipedia and Knol on YouTube
- Wikipedia and Knol on Angelina Jolie
- Wikipedia and Knol on Tom Cruise
- Wikipedia and Knol on Britney Spears
- Wikipedia and Knol on Al Pacino
- Wikipedia and Knol on The Beatles
- Wikipedia and Knol on Batman
- Wikipedia and Knol on The Lord of the Rings
- Wikipedia and Knol on Harry Potter
- Wikipedia and Knol on Star Trek
- Wikipedia and Knol on Star Wars
- Wikipedia and Knol on Nintendo Wii
- Wikipedia and Knol on Facebook
- Wikipedia and Knol on A-mei

Last but Not Least

- Wikipedia and Knol on Knol
- Wikipedia and Knol on Wikipedia

Last year, when Google first revealed that it was working on the Knol project, it made it very clear that "Google will not serve as an editor in any way, and will not bless any content. All editorial responsibilities and control will rest with the authors." This statement refers to the trial stage, when composition of articles was possible only by invitation to selected authors.

However, it had been planned since the beginning that Knol would become open to the public, and Google acknowledged the risks: "Once testing is completed, participation in knols will be completely open, and we cannot expect that all of them will be of high quality. Our job in Search Quality will be to rank the knols appropriately when they appear in Google search results." This task seems unfinished, for Knol articles still fail to appear at the top of a common Google search, and Wikipedia's built-in search utility works substantially better at finding variant titles and behaving intuitively than Knol's.

The announcement of Knol's opening to the public last week emphasized that "the key principle behind Knol is authorship." This is difficult to believe in view of the sheer number of articles in Knol that display the names of purported authors who did little more than copying and pasting from the source they're supposed to be replacing. Wikipedia's open nature makes it technically untenable to speak of plagiarism here. But the questionability of the practice remains. At least Reference.com and Answers.com openly disclose when they use Wikipedia content.

Knol has its strengths, though, but it is evident that they come from the stage of invitation-only writing. There is a striking abundance of excellent entries on medical subjects and travel guides, and there is also the perennial usefulness of a ranking system that allows the reader to get an idea of the quality of an article before reading it, or leave it for the next reader to come.
Some Knol entries as, for example, those on Bill Clinton and Asperger's syndrome, were listed in early drafts of this article, but on subsequent revisions I found that their "authors" had removed them. Some of the articles that made it to the current list of examples may or may not be removed in the future.
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Carlos Arturo Serrano Gomez

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