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Tuesday, July 29, 2008


A strange title, no?

I just discovered Google's Knol project. Imagine an author-accountable version of Wikipedia. That's quite the concept. It's like a free encyclopedia, written by experts, where the experts make money by putting google adds on their pages (optional), and the encyclopedia itself is free. I can't help but liking this concept.

This, to me, is about the influence of Open Source on business models other than software.

People used to claim, back in the 90's, that the internet would eventually become nothing but adds, because no one in their right might will contribute content for free, and content generation would become the exclusive domain of major companies. That was the old thinking, which led to the "subscription models" favoured by companies like online subscription based dictionaries, and subscription based expert advice, both of which I find lacking in so many respects.

Subsequently, people began to shift in the other direction, where it was assumed that services could harness the vast power of the millions of online people. If each one contributed something to wikipedia, we'd have a mighty resource. Of course, they forgot the chaotic nature of society. There are always a bunch of idiots to ruin every party.

So where does this leave us? With Knol! This model is vastly more like the way software is created in the Open Source model. The Linux kernel is edited by thousands of people, creating an excellent software platform, and it's not by letting just anyone edit the software. Many people create suggestions for new patches, and the best (or most useful, or most easily maintained...) are accepted. Everyone is accountable along the way, and the source of every patch is recorded. If you want to add something to the Linux kernel, you'd better know your stuff, and be able to demonstrate you do. I think the same thing goes for knol. If you want to create a page, fine, but you'll be accountable for it, and your identity will be used to judge the validity of the page. If an anonymous person wants to edit it, great, that's not a problem, but the page maintainer will have to agree to those changes. This is a decentralized expert based system, fueled by volunteers and self-sponsored (via the google adds) content providers. It's a fantastic starting point for a new type of business model.

Anyhow, I have concerns about this model, as I would about any new product. What if someone hijacks a page or "squats" on it. I could register the page for "coca cola" and write an article on it and become the de-facto expert on something that has commercial value. ouch.

That said, I started my first knol article on ChIP-Seq. If anyone is interested in joining in, let me know. There's always room for collaboration on this project.




Blogger William said...

No technophile can ignore google's entry into the 'pedia market. I'll be interested to watch your ChIP-seq page as this technology develops.

Your likely prime competitor: is currently written like an advertisement, which is probably not how many student's first introduction to chip seq should look. I'll be working on improving it, feel free to join me.

July 31, 2008 8:05:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Anthony said...

Thanks for the link! I also love wikipedia, and it'll be an interesting competition to see how they do in the long run. That said, the nature of the internet doesn't mean that one wins and the other loses. There's very likely room for both. (Wikipedia will probably always be able to stay more current, while Knols are probably going to have more "trusted" information.)

July 31, 2008 8:57:00 AM PDT  

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