Having cornered the search market, taken over Youtube and struck fear into the hearts of publishers, Google is licking its lips and looking for new targets. Next stop, Wikipedia.
The potential Wikipedia killer app that Google is developing is called knol, and it has of course sparked much discussion in the blogosphere, with bloggers outbidding each other in who can come up with the wittiest pun. (My favourite: Google Sets its Guns on the Grassy Knol). But puns aside, should Wikipedia be worried? Should we?
Yes and no. You have to remember that Google does not always suceed. Remember Google Video? That didn't take off. Google News? I don't know any News junky who uses that. And I don't see people rushing to pick up Google Talk.
Knol operates on a completely different model from Wikipedia. Instead of having a page for a topic that everybody can edit if they think they know better than the original author, in Knol, the author controls the content, and other users can only suggest changes. Also, you could have more than one "knol" on each topic. Google assures us that more popular (and hence, presumably, more accurate) knols will float to the top, but will they really?
Of course, you have a similar problem in Wikipedia, but it's mitigated because you can correct information: In knols, it seems you can only decide if you like the information or not.
Then there is the problem of orphaned topics: What happens if a "good" knol is abandoned by the author? Can we reuse it to start a new knol? Or is that information frozen in time forever, neither to be reused nor updated?
There are tons of problems that could bring knols to its knees. Of course, there are also reasons why it could succeed: There's less risk of vandalism like Wikipedia has seen, and there are more incentives for people to contribute (Google has agreed to share ad revenue if knol owners let them place ads on their pages).
Whether or not knol succeeds, I believe that the two models are different enough that they could even exist side-by-side. After all Encarta and the Encyclopedia Britannica both sold copies, didn't they?