[Foundation-l] Knol: on the bright side of things...

George Herbert george.herbert at gmail.com
Wed Jul 30 18:37:10 UTC 2008

On Wed, Jul 30, 2008 at 6:18 AM, Brian McNeil
<brian.mcneil at wikinewsie.org> wrote:
> ...
> To perhaps be overly cynical:
> Wikimedia works to freely share information and knowledge with as many
> people as possible.
> Google Knol works to monetise opinions and observations from any sap that
> can be convinced to contribute.
> Knol, the Geocities of the 21st century.

I agree that Knol is currently less well focused and written than Wikipedia is.

But both in response to this and to the Copyleft / BY discussion -

Let me put forth the idea that experimentation in the "freely
available information" space is an extremely good thing.

Wikipedia took some time to get where it is today, where we have at
least nominally functional content accuracy, anti-vandalism, community
functions.  These are all still clearly problem points but I think
that "it works" is clearly defensible.

We also may not be the ultimate best solution for creating or
distributing good freely available information.

A lot of the problems we do have are pretty core issues with how we
work and very hard to fix.

The question of whether making money off ads associated with freely
available information works for the better of the community at large
and content creators/editors is an open question.  Wikipedia chose
very deliberately not to.  Wikia does, but the company makes the
money.  In Knol's case, writers/editors can make at least some of it.
Many of Wikipedia's mirror sites make money similarly to Wikia.

It may well be that there's potentially enough money in some
editing/writing that it can attract better writers and editors to help
create better, stronger information pages / Knols on popular topics.
That would probably benefit everyone.

The copyleft vs BY-like license dispute is also an open question.  I
don't know of any serious study or historical analysis which has
indicated that open content, software, or anything else licensed under
GPL or copyleft terms has thrived more or been higher quality than BSD
or BY-like licenses.  This is a philosophical answer more than a
practical one - it's fine to prefer one or the other, and I have no
problem with Wikipedia's GFDL / eventually CC-BY-SA-like stance.  But
other licenses and license philosophies may work just as well, or
better, in the long term.  There should be more effort put into
studying what the licenses' practical effects are.  There should also
be more openness to other projects doing it differently, so that we
have test cases of the different options.

Knol as it stands now is ridiculously primitive in comparison to
Wikipedia now.  But compared to Wikipedia a month into the project?

I don't know if it will ultimately thrive or wither on the vine.
Either way, it's an important experiment in alternate ways to create
and distribute information freely.  We should be standing up and
clapping and wishing it the best.  This is not a competition in the
"Wikipedia wins Knol loses" sense.  We're here to create and
distribute free information - everyone wins if someone finds a better
way to do that.

-george william herbert
george.herbert at gmail.com

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