Last night on the official Google blog, Udi Manber, vice president of engineering, announced that Google is testing a publishing platform called Knol.
From what we know so far, Knol is a wiki-like platform. Authors can create topics, and there are tools to interlink articles and content, but as Manber says, an article, or "knol," is "just a Web page." Where it differs from a wiki is its focus on the author. All knols will highlight who wrote them.
That small difference becomes dramatic when you put Knol alongside Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a collaborative system. There is no author listed on a wiki page because a page may have many authors (if you want to, you can divine who said what on the history pages).
Since Knol pages will be authored, users won't, presumably, be able to dive in and edit another page. They'll be able to submit edits to the author for approval, though. So much for open collaboration. But as a platform for authors who might want to make some money from their work, it's a better bet (Knol will allow authors to monetize their pages as they see fit).
Purists may think that since Google is in the business of monetizing content via advertising, it should not compete with other publishing platforms. However, this is not the first time that Google has gotten into this business.
Blogger, of course, is Google's biggest success in text-publishing platforms. But Google also experimented with its own database, Google Base, in which it not only indexes the information but also stores it. And then there's YouTube.
I would compare Knol to Blogger, and eventually, I think it will have Digg-like elements. Knol is like Blogger because it's a personal publishing platform. It's all about giving authors a platform for writing. It's just a like a blog, but much more structured. If you like a Knoller, you'll likely want to read more written by that person, or even subscribe to his work.
It could become Digg-like, in that multiple Knol pages on the same topic will compete with each other. And while the Manber's post hinted that the arbiter of Knol quality will be Google search rankings, I cannot imagine that there won't, at some point, be both a social network of Knol users and a main page that ranks the most popular Knol pages by votes, page views, discussion flow, or other group metrics.
At this point, based only on the official blog post, Knol looks like a solid end-user publishing platform. I strongly doubt that it will put much of a hurt on Wikipedia, since its author focus makes it much the antithesis of the open, community-driven wiki model. Knol looks more like a Google version of About.com, Mahalo, or Squidoo.
No word on when--or if--Knol will be released to the public.