In yesterday’s Google blog post, VP Engineering Udi Manber proposes the knol, which we have duly registered in Cohere as an Idea, and started to connect, e.g.

“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. Google will not serve as an editor in any way, and will not bless any content. All editorial responsibilities and control will rest with the authors. We hope that knols will include the opinions and points of view of the authors who will put their reputation on the line. Anyone will be free to write. For many topics, there will likely be competing knols on the same subject. Competition of ideas is a good thing.

Knols will include strong community tools. People will be able to submit comments, questions, edits, additional content, and so on. Anyone will be able to rate a knol or write a review of it. Knols will also include references and links to additional information. At the discretion of the author, a knol may include ads. If an author chooses to include ads, Google will provide the author with substantial revenue share from the proceeds of those ads.”

We might see this as a move towards a distributed wikipedia, where knols are [potentially] authoritative little narratives that might be a first port of call when viewing a given topic, e.g. in a Topic Map, or dare I say, an Idea in Cohere.

One issue is the difference between a single author (or team) controlling the narrative as in a mini-bog entry, vs having it conceivably be generated from one or more Topic/Idea Maps once it’s narrative structure had been defined, or continously redefined by different end-users.

Coherent narrative is, however, worth a lot, so it may be that we will always want nodes to be knol-sized. That’s fine — our Cohere Idea lifts out the core concept (“knol”) and adds a narrative extract from the original blog post.

This does however raise some questions. Wikipedia deals with contentious, contested domains through promoting the social norm of neutral point of view with the social mechanisms that seek to reinforce this. Google in contrast shirks any responsibility for editorialising or promoting such an approach, leaving it as a free-for-all. So, we’re back to the blogosphere then, with no support for sensemaking other than reading a lot of textual narrative.

The above paragraph is an argument against the proposal. How would a blog aggregator or search engine spot this. It can’t of course, at least not yet. But if we map how we see “knol” in relation to other approaches, and connect it to our critical questions about it, then we get this embedded snippet, which can be viewed fully here in Cohere:

The idea of modelling this in Cohere is, of course, to ponder on whether we might have a machine-processable layer that could sit on top of knols, blog posts, wikipedia entries, etc, but which still permits expressive freedom. We can disagree vehemently about a topic, but we can do so in a way that is quite transparent to aggregators and humans alike. Maybe.

Here’s the Connection Net view: