History of Knol

The alternative to Wikipedia created by Google, with articles signed by authors, was open to contributions for all and in all languages on knol.google.com.

The search engine knows what is the Web, and we was surprised that, despite the buzz surrounding the opening of the public service, the site started with instant server response and with a perfectly working interface.

But Google announced   the end of Knol to April 30, 2012. The subdomain knol.google.com is destined to disappear and the contents transferred either on Wordpress.com (in a subdomain created by the author) or to the own hosting of the author for his articles on Wordpress with the theme Annotum.

History of Knol

At first, Google attempted to buy About.com, but the deal failed.
According to DailyTech, sources close to the sale tell that it does not failed because Google was feared by the big price the New York Time want them paying the site, but rather executives at About.com were worried that Google will rebuilt entirely the site and that because the move from a Guide model to a wiki most of the writers will lose their job.

Knol according to Google

The title of the article "Encourage people to share their knowledge," demonstrates on one hand the desire to provide an efficient publication system, and on the other hand, to give the project an encyclopaedic and universal nature.
Here are a few quotations from the article where Google introduced his project...

Knol. The word is short for knowledge and a knol is an article in the universal encyclopedia:

"A knol on a particular topic is meant to be the first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read."

"The goal is for knols to cover all topics, from scientific concepts, to medical information, from geographical and historical, to entertainment, from product information, to how-to-fix-it instructions."

Unlike Wikipedia, articles will have an author. Google turns away from the anonymity of Wikipedia:

"The key idea behind the knol project is to highlight authors (...) We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of web content."

"For many topics, there will likely be competing knols on the same subject."

Google will provide the system, which will host pages but also allow (anonymously this time) to contribute and comment on the articles to make Knol a community:

"Google will provide easy-to-use tools for writing, editing, and so on, and it will provide free hosting of the content. Writers only need to write; we'll do the rest."

"People will be able to submit comments, questions, edits, additional content, and so on. Anyone will be able to rate a knol or write a review of it."

The articles will be integrated into a hypertext site that so builds an encyclopedia:

"Knols will also include references and links to additional information."

And also, and this is another major difference with Wikipedia, the author of a knol may include advertisements and collect incomes:

"At the discretion of the author, a knol may include ads. If an author chooses to include ads, Google will provide the author with substantial revenue share from the proceeds of those ads."

Finally, as the system is open and that everyone can contribute, Google has put in place a "research quality" which will select articles in search results.

Reaction to the announcement

Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia and founder of Citizendium

Knol is apt to produce precisely the same sort of uneven content, with many of the same abuses, that Wikipedia has. Without actual editors, the same sort of problems about misleading and damaging information are apt to plague knol. 

Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia

Google does a lot of cool stuff, but a lot of that cool stuff doesn’t work out so great.

Google’s service would encourage competing, opinionated articles on any topic, whereas Wikipedia strived for objectivity and had a single article per topic that represented the collective knowledge of its authors.

You may see an awful lot of articles about Viagra.

Retrospectively, none of the bad predictions came true. Knol has made important innovations.


After six months of operation, the encyclopedia from Google has announced the 100 000th published article.
If we compare this figure to 3 000 000 Wikipedia articles (in English/2009), it seems small but it should be noted that Wikipedia had taken two years to get himself to that number!
The announcement also states that readers contribute more to the articles while they are maintained by a single author, with the option open to contributions often activated.
Source Google blog.

Knol vs. Wikipedia

Knol was not a version of Wikipedia, there were many differences between Knol and Wikipedia, and which stay in Annotum. Compared to Wikipedia, Knol was therefore situated as follows:

Knol vs. Wikipedia. Differences between Knol and Wikipedia
  1. Knol hosted the pages of an author as a Web site.
  2. It is a site with an encyclopedic vocation as Wikipedia and have a similar collaborative framework of management of articles and contributions.
  3. It provided tools to support the creation of pages as App Engine and is connected to tools, such as Google Maps to add a card to a Web page or as Google Earth.

For one hand Knol is a new Wikipedia with very advanced content features, but the essential difference is that there will not be one article by topic, but the authors could compete on the same topic.

It was possible to an author to open an article to contributors and it becomes so a wiki (ref 4).

The slogan of Google is "Don't be evil". The system for selecting articles to include as it appears will be different. Rather than asking anonymous visitors to vote for deletion from the wiki, it leaves the authors to put a link to the articles they like. Articles most often linked will reach the top of search results, others will be still there but invisible.
The main difference with Wikipedia is that Wikipedia has an article by topic or term while each author could create an article on any topic on Knol. Indeed, it is also the difference between an encyclopedia and a simple page hosting!
Knol offered a contribution management and multimedia tools, but without a unique page per topic, its interest was quite small.

Licensing and collaboration

The choice of license was left to the creator of the Knol in the configuration panel between Creative Commons 3.0 and All rights reserved.
Similarly, openness to collaboration was variable, although users had be a registered to participate:
- Only the creator can edit the article.
- Or corrections may be submitted to be validated by the author.
- Or the article is in wiki mode: any user can edit it. Which brings us back to Wikipedia.

Multimedia and vocal

In December 2009, Google introduced objects to insert, and an interface for placing all kinds of items: images, videos, gadgets, mathematical formulas ...
Among these objects, PicApp (now closed too), a search service for finding reusable images, in a stock of 10 million images to illustrate your articles.
Wikipedia can also add images and videos, provided they are freely licensed, but Knol users can upload their own multimedia products under the license of their choice, such as on Facebook.
Since nothing prohibits to create profile pages on Knol, it also tends to compete with social networking sites.

Knol experimented vocal expression to its articles. The article of the online encyclopedia of Google for some have a "listen" button. When you click on the button, the contents of the article is expressed vocally.
This feature confirms the idea that the goal of Knol was not to create another version of wikipedia with ads, but That it wants to go ahead and create a modern support for knowledge.
And the audio option is only one of many features that Google has in its boxes.
Google's intention is firstly to increase the number of languages and secondly to extend this audio functionality to other applications such as Google Doc.

Why Google has it closed Knol?

In announcing the closure of the site, actually a subdomain of google.com, the firm introduced the plugin and theme Annotum base as an alternative: everyone can create its site with Wordpress, and Annotum turn it into Wiki. Knol becomes a decentralized network of independent sites.
This does not change what is offered to visitors ...

But there are other reasons and other alternatives to Knol:

Thus Knol became superfluous in the mission to provide encylopedic cards on all subjects. This task is accomplished by the Web or transferred directly to the search engine.