Google Knol Collaborative Knowledge Database = Universal Textbook of Medicine?

Google Knol is a free online collaborative knowledge database or an experts' wiki but not an encyclopedia. Knol is not a direct competitor of Wikipedia, at least not in its current version. Wikipedia is anonymous -- there is no single editor in charge. In contrast, Knol includes the author name in the URL of the article. Google expects multiple knols on one subject rather than the current Wikipedia model of one article on a subject. The term "knol" ("unit of knowledge") refers to both the project and an article in the project.

There is a definite focus on medical topics -- most of the 300 or so starting "knols" are disease-based and authored by doctors. Will Google Knol be the mythical universal textbook of medicine that Wikipedia never became (and was not meant to be)? UpToDate and eMedicine are close to that concept but UpToDate is prohibitively expensive and management-focused while eMedicine is limited in coverage.

Before you get too excited about Knol, the "universal textbook," have a look at its front page which lists a wide spectrum of topics: Type 1 Diabetes, Lung Cancer, Tooth Pain, and then suddenly, "Toilet clogs: Solutions for the most common problems."

Screenshot of Google Knol text editor -- much easier to edit than Wikipedia. Image source: Google Operating System, Creative Commons license.

Search Engine Land says that Knol is a service created by Google's search quality team. "I do believe Knol does solve a search problem. The problem we have, unlocking what people know and bringing it online. This is another tool to help release some of this knowledge," explains Cedric Dupont, the product manager for Knol.

Your name is behind your knol, and it should reflect your unique point of view. Be succinct, but comprehensive on your topic of choice. Provide references, and display your credentials. Readers will want to know who you are and gain context on the knols you are writing."

An expert-written medical knol. Image source: Google Operating System, Creative Commons license.

Selected medical knols:

The Hospitalist Model of Care: The Fastest Growing Specialty In Medical History by Robert Wachter (who else?)

Nasal Polyps by Andrew Murr, UCSF

Seasonal Allergies by Paul Nadler, MD, UCSF

Asthma by John Fahy, UCSF

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) by Stephen C. Lazarus, UCSF

Urticaria by Alan Rockoff

According to Google Blogger Buzz:

"Knol may be used to complement your blog. Blogs are great for quickly and easily getting your latest writing out to your readers, while knols are better for when you want to write an authoritative article on a single topic. The tone is more formal, and, while it's easy to update the content and keep it fresh, knols aren't designed for continuously posting new content or threading.

Except for the different format, you'll get all the things you've come to expect from Blogger in Knol. Like Blogger, Knol has simple web authoring tools that make it easy to collaborate, co-author, and publish. It has community features as well: Your readers will be able to add comments and rate your article, and, if you want, they'll be able to suggest edits that you can then either accept or reject. And, just like in Blogger, you can also choose to include ads from AdSense in your knols to perhaps make a little money.

One other important difference between Knol and Blogger is that Knol encourages you to reveal your true identity. Knols are meant to be authoritative articles, and, therefore, they have a strong focus on authors and their credentials. We feel that this focus will help ensure that authors get credit for their work, make the content more credible.

All in all, we think Knol will be a great new way for you to share what you know, inform people about an issue that is important to you, raise your profile as an expert in your field, and maybe even make some money from ads."

Video: Knol From Google.

Google Knol Is Live. Blogoscoped.
Share Your Expertise in Google's Knol. Google Operating System.

The Difference Between Google Knol & Wikipedia Encyclopedia. Digital Inspiration.
Google Knol - Quick Start Guide. Digital Inspiration.
Will Knols and Blogs Upend the Cozy World of Medical Publishing? Wachter's World.
Google vs Wikipedia? No. ScienceRoll.
Is Google a Media Company? NYTimes, 08/2008.

Update 2011:

Abandoned Knol - Google Knol homepage says a lot about the current state of the project


  1. I read somewhere (sorry, read too much ...) that the reason that now, at the beginning, most of the posts are about medicine is that it was doctors who took part in the pilot, and in fact influenced some of the features.
    At the moment there is indeed some weird stuff there, but some interesting articles are getting there. It's not clear yet whether they would be better off in a blog or on Knol, except that the Google ranks seem to be pretty amazing, even so early in the game.
    Have a look at my latest post for my first take on Knol, after just 1 day in the air.

  2. Thanks for the heads up. It doesn't look bad at all.

  3. Your blog is very good.
    Nice to see your blog.