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Review: Google’s Knol has intriguing possibilities

Review: Google’s Knol has intriguing possibilities

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Billed in the tech press as Google's version of Wikipedia, Knol may offer writers of original content a whole lot more.

More control of their material, more freedom and, most importantly, more credit.

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As I write this, I gotta admit that I am a fixture at Wikipedia. I’ve been an administrator there for years and have contributed to thousands of Wikipedia articles either as the original creator or in other fashions.

Within the past 24 hours, I heard that Google had launched its own wiki service called “Knol” (short for Knowledge as in “knol” is a unit of knowlege). Cute and weird – like most things Google.

Now, upon hearing of the Google-owned wiki, I immediately thought Google was launching its own online encyclopedia. So, I went over to check it out.

I was shocked by what I found. Shocked.


It turns out Knol is not another Wikipedia. It is much, much more.

Google has been getting the reputation for being a media behemoth. But it sure ain’t acting like one with Knol. The biggest issue that came out and slapped me in the face about Knol is: CONTRIBUTORS KEEP THE COPYRIGHT TO THEIR WORK.

Yes, you read me right. If you contribute something to Knol – you keep the copyright – and may even prohibit other people from altering your work. Ever.

But if you WANT – and only if – you may release the material in a share-and-share-alike method similar to that of Wikipedia. But, that’s just an option – not a mandate.

Their website says:

We respect our users’ ownership of and responsibility for the content they choose to share. It is our belief that censoring this content is contrary to a service that bases itself on freedom of expression.

Unless you run your own site, or contribute to a small site like – this is unheard of. When you contribute to any other major media site like Wikipedia, Yahoo Answers or even blog on Live Journal, you sign away most – or all – of your rights to your work. But, not so with Knol.

Google wants none of that:

No Google Ownership of User Content.  Google claims no ownership or control over any content submitted, posted or displayed by you on or through the Service. You or a third party licensor, as appropriate, retain all patent, trademark and copyright to any content you submit, post or display on or through the Service and you are responsible for protecting those rights, as appropriate.

The control thing is cool enough – but it gets better.


The next best thing is that Knol does not limit what you can post. You can write about whatever you want (as long as it isn’t hard-core porn, kiddie porn, bestiality or hate speech).

Wanna post your favorite recipe for tuna salad? No problem.

How about an opinionated guide to all 22 episodes of the short-lived 2001 steampunk SCI FI Channel TV series, The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne? Yup.

How about writing a how-to book on creating a fanzine? Yep. Even if someone else has written on the same topic – you can write your own and keep opinionated folks you disagree with from mucking up your take on the issue.


Although Google says users should not treat Knol as a blog, the open ended policy does not preclude folks from using Knol to host other forms of writing, such as short fiction, collections of original poems, lyrics, reviews, art galleries, opinion essays, fanzines, and anything else that is not pornography or hate speech.


Perhaps the best thing about Knol is how easy Knol is to use. Creating content on the site is literally easier than using many online email services.

And if you already have content written in Word, as a plain text file – or even as a PDF – you can simply upload that file into Knol from your hard drive and with minimal cleaning, you got an article on the web.

I used the service to post a couple of old recipes – and even uploaded some ancient college essays in word format that I had written in many years ago.

Both worked like a dream. You can check out my trial run on Knol by clicking this link. It takes you to my profile page – with a list of my articles appearing on the right hand side of the screen.

Some I even left open for you – or anyone else – to contribute to, while others I did not.

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  • Allows you to keep all copyrights and control of your material
  • Bylines – take credit for what you create
  • Google hosts the content – but does not want to own it
  • Virtually no limits on what you can write about
  • Block others from being able to tamper with your creation

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  • For being owned by a search engine, finding content via the resident search function is not easy on Knol
  • Navigation on the site is non-existent aside from “featured knols” which are mostly medical in nature
  • In “beta” which means it is subject to change drastically in the next few months

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David Speakman

David Speakman has spent more than two decades as a writer/editor, photographer, graphic designer and manager of creative teams in broadcast, print and the Internet. His education is in journalism, graphic design, organizational communication and law.

One Comment

  1. Wow, uhm, wow. How startling. That’s really cool, and I bet people can write up their own things if they disagree with someone, like how to write a fanzine. One person writes their how to on it, another person says, that’s a load of spit and writes up their own. . . Weird!

    Only Google. . .

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