There’s much ado about Knol, but I haven’t noticed many Wikipedian voices. Well, I’ll speak up, and I’m sort of a Wikipedian. Actually, less so recently, which is relevant.
The Target Audience · I know exactly who Knol will appeal to. People like me. Frustrated editors. People who’ve enjoyed participating but find that they’re doing it less.
When first got interested in Wikipedia, I used to spend the occasional evening just following the "random article" link and cleaning things up; and also doing spot quality improvement when I looked something up and saw flaws or breakage. I still do a bit of that.
Also, I took responsibility for maintenance of a few articles where I had expertise: Vancouver, T.E. Lawrence, Audiophile. And, before I found out that you’re not supposed to edit your employer, Sun Microsystems.
I don’t really do that any more, for two reasons. The first is that, as with being a serious gamer, being a Wikipedian is increasingly time-consuming. There is a forest of acronyms, and there are all these macros you can slap on pages to indicate problems, and they have subtle cultural implications that I don’t really understand. For example, as I write this, T.E. Lawrence has a badge at the top saying there’s a neutrality dispute. So I went and looked at the (immense, huge, disorganized) Talk page and couldn’t figure out who was disputing what. But I’m no longer confident enough of Wikipedia culture to just delete the stupid thing.
Second, there are irritants. People who know less than I about one of “my” subjects would come along and splash in stupidly-erroneous material, and people who write less well than I would uglify formerly-clear sentences. If I were willing to engage them on the Discussion page and do the dance, I could eventually end up with a good result, but it was kind of discouraging and very time-consuming.
If I were twenty years younger, with more time and general enthusiasm, it probably wouldn’t be a problem.
Also, I consider myself thicker-skinned than average, so when someone I consider an intellectual lightweight says that I misunderstand the Versailles Conference or phono cartridges, in a rude tone, I don’t let it get me down. But there are people in the world, in particular people who’ve put in the time to grow expertise, who are going to stomp off in a temper.
I bet a lot of them already have.
The Solution? · Those kind of people are going to really like the proposition: “I’ll write a carefully-crafted Knol on T.E. Lawrence, those wankers won’t be able to pee in my pool, it’ll get the link love and I’ll be the acknowledged authority. Yee-hah!” In fact, that very thought crossed my mind when I read about Knol.
The Problem · At the end of the day, I don’t buy it. Whether or not you like being edited (and lots of people don’t), on balance the majority of edits are improvements. And on balance, most Wikipedia articles are pretty decent.
Yeah, it’s a problem that being a Wikipedia editor is a less-lightweight activity than it used to be. But it’s not fatal. Being a gamer is less-lightweight too, and Warcraft draws millions. The fact that I can’t contribute as easily as I used to irritates me, but at the end of the day Wikipedia doesn’t really need me, it seems.
Udi’s one of the Really Smart Guys and Knol is a genuinely new approach. But I don’t think that there’s a really big problem that will drive people toward it.