If Google floated a trial balloon to see what ideas they could get everyone else to come up with for them, they’ve succeeded fabulously. It’s a Rorschach blot the tech press sphere has spent the weekend projecting all its hopes and fears onto. Like Citizendium was this time last year.
One thing about the mockup graphic: the Creative Commons CC-by 3.0 logo. Remember that the point of Wikipedia is not in fact to run a hideously popular and expensive website, but to create a body of freely-reusable educational content. IF, I say IF, Google require Knols to be under a proper free content licence, that’ll be a big win for everyone, same as Citizendium is basically on the same side as Wikipedia. Making free content normal and expected. And I think we will go so far as to lend our good name to publicly saying very nice things about this exciting new source of free content. IF they do this.
And if they don’t, they’ll just be another about.com or Yahoo Answers. Or Google Answers. Remember Google Answers? I bet Google does.
If they allow multiple competing articles on a given subject, I’m not so sure that’s a win for the reader. Fred Bauder‘s Wikinfo also does this and has almost no traction. I consider the Neutral Point Of View policy our most important innovation, far more so than letting anyone edit the site. The view from 20,000 feet, even if it’s as worked out by editors at ground level. People don’t come to an encyclopedia for ten articles, they come for one that provides an overview of the ten. That’s what an encyclopedia is for: the ten-second or sixty-second or five-minute quick backgrounder.
Update: I am apparently the first person in the blagosphere with the initiative to find the Google Code page on Knol. Does anyone recognise this wikitext syntax? Update 2: Apparently it’s the syntax used by their own internal wiki engine. Update 3: They’ve locked it down. Cache here while it lasts.