Friday, August 29, 2008

Another Bit of Knowledge

I've just completed my second contribution to Google's "Knol" - their run at Wikipedia's dominance in the free knowledge marketplace. Both Wikipedia and Knol materials are written by unpaid volunteers, but there are important differences.

Wikipedia has been around much longer and therefore has a far more extensive and detailed range of materials. Wikipedia contributors are anonymous and the style is collaborative - anyone in the world can take a shot at any Wikipedia article and edit anything they want into it. Fortunately, at least for important topics, Wikipedia has many active volunteers who generally correct false or misleading or partisan articles and edits pretty rapidly and fairly.

Knol requires writers to identify themselves and their affilliations at the head of their articles. They even verify the writer's identity by making an automated phone call to the writer's phone. They also encourage edits by anyone who is interested, but these edits must be approved by the original author before they appear. It will be interesting to see how Knol fares against Wikipedia. Right now, Knol is David vs the Wikipedia Goliath - but Google is a very successful company and, with them behind Knol, and able, as the premier web search engine, to make sure Knols are well-represented in the results when people do searches!

I am using my Knols as materials for my U Maryland students, replacing class materials previously only available on the U Maryland website.

My most recent Knol is Quantifying Brooks Mythical Man-Month and my previous one is Optimal Span.

Ira Glickstein

1 comment:

Ira Glickstein said...

My faith in Wikipedia was further strengthened yesterday as I was reading the newly-expanded entry on Alaske Gov. Sarah Palin. Anonymous, unpaid volunteers edited the previously short entry to include recent events. I thought the material was pretty even-handed.

As I read further I came upon the interesting claim Gov. Palin's Downs Syndrome baby, born in April, was actually the child of her 17-year old daughter. I began checking the references and learned the baby was born on the same day Gov. Palin gave a keynote address in Texas and she flew back to Alaska after her water broke.

By the time I got back to the Wikipedia story, the claim about the baby being her daughter's was gone!

One of the critiques of Wikipedia is that anybody in the world can register with Wikipedia with no verification of identity and then edit anything into any story. This is true for most of the stories. However, important or controversial stories get alot of scrutiny from many people and spurious edits are quickly corrected. I believe they also have a core group of volunteers who police controversial areas and an established system for challenging and correcting materials.

The new Google "Knol" system is far less well-developed, but there is a place to "flag inappropriate content".

Ira Glickstein