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Google launches Wikipedia-killer

Knol users can earn money from their articles

Google has gone head-to-head with Wikipedia after finally releasing Knol - a user-generated online encyclopedia, which was first announced in December last year.

In Knol, authors will get two options for licensing their work. They may choose to reserve some rights using a Creative Commons licence. They also may opt for a traditional copyright licence format to reserve all rights.

"We want to give authors a choice and provide them with an option to publish content in the manner they desire. For some authors, it is important to make their work freely available to the world with a minimum of legal restrictions, while others prefer the 'all rights reserved' model the spokesman said.

Knol is far from revolutionary, considering its similarities not only to Wikipedia but also to other sites like Squidoo, so it remains to be seen whether the Google entry will attract a critical mass of contributors and readers, said Gartner analyst Andrew Frank.

"It's a long shot, if you had to give it odds on whether this will change the world or not," he said.

What's clear is that Knol is another example of Google's power and resources, since not many companies would dare attempt to compete against such an entrenched player as Wikipedia, he said. "It's interesting and certainly shows how Google is one of the few companies with the scale to be able to do an experiment like this without being intimidated by Wikipedia," Frank said.

Although the roster of Wikipedia and Knol contributors will overlap to an extent, Knol will likely attract a different type of author as well - those who want to take advantage of the marketing and revenue opportunities the Google service offers, said industry analyst Greg Sterling of Sterling Market Intelligence.

This has its pros and cons. It may yield articles of excellent quality, but the model will likely sacrifice the collective participation on individual entries that Wikipedia fosters and that results in a generally effective quality control and community policing, Sterling said.

In terms of layout, Knol at first glance seems more user-friendly and appealing than the bare, academic-journal look of Wikipedia, and this might help the Google service attract readers, Sterling said.

Jay Walsh, spokesman of the Wikimedia Foundation, Wikipedia's parent organisation, declined to comment about the competing Google service, but said the group is "always happy" when information is made freely available to the public "under any of the free content licenses".

"The Foundation's mission is to increase the amount of free knowledge globally, and to help bring that knowledge to audiences in as many formats and methods as possible, both on the internet and in off-line formats. To that end, we're always pleased to see other organisations undertaking similar, free knowledge mission work," Walsh said.

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