About six months after first announcing a private beta test of its Knol project, Google has thrown the doors open, and is inviting anyone who wants to create an entry to jump on board. Unlike Wikipedia — to which it is most often compared — Google’s Knol allows authors to effectively take ownership of articles they write about topics in which they are (or believe themselves to be) experts. And instead of there just being one article on a subject, to which multiple authors contribute, Google says that it expects there to be multiple entries about a given topic, written by different people. Contributors can also offer their own edits to a particular article, which the author can choose to accept or not.
Obviously, a user-generated compendium of knowledge about a variety of topics sounds a lot like a little thing called Wikipedia, and there’s no question that Knol is going to compete with the crowd-sourced encyclopedia to some extent (Wikipedia has also been considering the addition of an “approval system,” which would make it even more like Knol). But I think Knol poses an even bigger threat to Mahalo, the people-powered search service created by Jason Calacanis — and to a lesser extent other directory-style tools like Seth Godin’s Squidoo and About.com (owned by the New York Times), not to mention Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger’s Citizendium project.
Mahalo has a bit of a head start, but the model is surprisingly similar: get authors to create and “curate” articles about topics, with links and so on. Mahalo has also proven to be fairly successful at getting its results to show up high in Google searches — to the point where Allen Stern has called it “an SEO play.” But will it continue to rank as highly when entries on the same topic from Google’s own knowledge directory are available too? I doubt it. To add insult to injury, Knol will also allow authors to put AdSense on their pages and share in the revenue, which could make becoming an author fairly attractive — at least as attractive as Jason has made Mahalo, or Seth has made Squidoo.
As I said when I wrote about Knol back in December, I think it could become a pretty powerful tool, and the addition of Google AdSense is also potentially a game-changer. Any thoughts, Jason? Update: Judging by his comments on FriendFeed, Jason sees Google entering the people-powered directory market as a validation of his strategy, and has no problem with being number 2 (thanks to Robert Seidman for pointing out the FriendFeed comment).