Google recently announced a new venture to help people share knowledge and expertise online, leading with the announcement of their concept of the “knol.” (A knol is a unit of knowledge.) Interestingly, their approach here looks a lot more similar to how we might approach this kind of project in academic libraries than it usually does. They’re concerned with allowing experts to share knowledge and retain their identity as the author of that knowledge, on the assumption that knowing authorship allows users to determine the relative validity and usefulness of information.
This reminds me of the Connexions project at Rice, which uses “endorsement lenses” to allow experts to highlight and endorse educational tools contributed to a common pool. It’s a new take on the idea of user-created content and the wisdom of crowds: rather than rely just on popularity as a gauge of quality, these tools acknowledge that some users are more skilled and knowledgeable than others. It strikes me that this is a compromise approach to content sharing that academic libraries can probably get behind.
The Google “knol” project is still in its earliest stages, and currently by invitation only, but here’s an interesting snippet for academic librarians to consider:
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.
Sounds a lot like something that undergraduate students will want to use, doesn’t it? Sounds like free, authoritative, unlicensed, findable subject research guides. On every topic under the sun.
I’d be very interested to hear from anyone who’s participated in the project so far. To me, this looks like something we should be watching very closely.