Via a Twitter post from MG Siegler at ParisLemon, I just came across a post on the Google Blog about a project the search giant is calling Knol, which stands for “a unit of knowledge,” apparently (who comes up with these goofy names?). I have to agree with the Lemon that this is potentially huge. What Google is describing sounds a lot like an expert version of Wikipedia, or essentially what estranged Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger has been trying to create in Citizendium: in other words, a more reliable Wikipedia, created and moderated by experts.
There’s a screenshot of what a Knol would look like on a topic such as insomnia, and it includes all the information that someone coming to a topic would want to know, according to Google — in other words, pretty much the same stuff that Wikipedia (or Squidoo or Mahalo) would have in an article about the same topic. The only difference that I can see is that Wikipedia entries seem to have more links.
One of the biggest differences, as MG Siegler notes, is that the authors of the articles are featured, with photos and a profile page. In addition to the ability to comment on the article — and apparently adding information Wikipedia-style, according to the Google blog post — readers can see other articles written by the same writer, and the articles have a star rating that refers to “peer” reviews, which are also visible in the sidebar.
I think this could be huge. A more authoritative version of Wikipedia, compiled by experts and powered by Google? Not only that, but as Paul Kedrosky points out, the pages come with Google ads, and authors get a revenue share — he says (and I agree) that it could hurt not just Wikipedia but Mahalo and plenty of others, especially if those pages start to rank highly in Google searches. Like I said — huge.