Google has now opened up its developing database of Knols. See the official announcement (“a knol is an authoritative article about a specific topic”), and Danny Sullivan’s helpful assessment. Danny provides a good outline of what Knol is doing and how it works. His reservation is particularly interesting:

Overall, I still lean toward not wanting Google to do this. I remain concerned that by hosting this content, it plays too much in the content owner space when its core business is supposed to be driving traffic outbound to others. Hosting content sets up inherent conflicts that over time start to erode the trust people have in Google, I feel.

Danny doesnt want Google to do it. But they are starting to do it, and it may now be tricky to pull back (they probably should). There are several hundred knols up there that you can test and evaluate, most of them are medical. You could write your own.

The knol that I looked at closely was on Breathing wine. It gave me some basic information. But it could have been written much more concisely, the take-home message is “don’t bother to open bottles hours/minutes before you drink them, and if you need to decant because of the lees, then decant”. In the 1,250 word article (this ‘knol’ terminology is a trifle tiresome) there was not a single link to anything, to any citation or to any source on the web. This is a specific weakness of the article that I selected, many of the medical entries have impressive references and citations. But there is no common format or standard for the level of annotation. This editorial uneveness suggests that the Knol project has a long way to go. Wikipedia works in part because of the tireless work of hundreds of experienced and unpaid editors who beaver away tidying things up.

Academic reference publishers will smile and recognise the challenge that the Knol project is facing. Giving a huge bunch of experts their head without detailed editorial planning and supervision is going to produce an uneven and messy mixture. Knol is a very curious enterprise for Google to be pursuing. It is a long, long way from PageRank.

The wikipedia entry on knol is impressive. There is not yet a knol entry on wikipedia.