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Google's Knol: these days, everyone's an expert

The great British debating society, which used to congregate at the boozer, is fast becoming an endangered species.

Its demise has been attributed to more and more people enjoying a tipple at home – but there's got to be more to it than the availability of cheaper beer elsewhere.

Perhaps technology is to blame. Indeed, as hundreds of thousands of contributors to PC Advisor's forums reveal themselves to be experts in far more than mere technology, we wonder whether saloon-bar experts are turning to the web to share their pearls of wisdom.

Buzz is growing around Knol, Google's user-generated online encyclopedia. It's fair to assume that Google wouldn't waste its time trying to spoil Wikipedia's fun if there wasn't a market for this sort of resource.

But there's a difference between this site and its famous rival. Mindful of criticisms levelled at Wikipedia that you don't even have to know the basics of a subject to post at length about it, the search giant is adamant that half-baked theories and received wisdom will not be allowed on Knol.

References and attributions will be the order of the day, making Knol less of a collaborative dictionary and more of a searchable knowledge bank. Articles will be written by actual experts in their field – for whom there may be a financial incentive.

A browse through the 50 or so listings visible on the knol.google.com site as I write, however, suggests that not every Knol will be as intimidatingly academic as this might suggest. Among titles such as Pharmacological Stress Testing and Adrenal Insufficiency was a featured Knol explaining how to make Italian beef sandwiches.

In fact, some of the content suggests that Google is set to make Knols of us all. Just be warned: do your research carefully. You need only watch an episode of 'QI' to establish how wide of the mark educated people can be about subjects on which they know just enough to make a fool of themselves.

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