There are two articles about Sarah Palin on Google Knol, the search company's abysmal new Wikipedia-like reference guide. One of them is a mess: Just a few hundred words long, the article is fraught with factual and grammatical errors. The other Palin entry is much more readable and informative, offering a thorough, balanced look at Palin's years in city and state government and her positions on national political issues. Unlike Wikipedia, Knol displays its authors' names and credentials to help you decide whether to trust a given piece. When I click on the name of the second Palin entry's author, Sam Goldfarb, I see that he's also written Knol articles about advertising on Facebook, the Chinese territory of Macau, and several hotels in Israel. How does Goldfarb know so much about so many things? You might call him a keen student of the Web—a bit of Googling confirms that each of his articles was lifted from other online sources.
Goldfarb's great Palin entry is a copy of the Wikipedia article on the Alaska governor as it appeared on Aug. 29, the day John McCain picked Palin as his running mate. That's why the Knol piece still describes Palin as having "successfully killed the Bridge to Nowhere"; the Wikipedia entry on Palin has since been updated thousands of times, and it now tells a more nuanced story about her flip-flop on the bridge. (Wikipedia's articles are licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License, which allows people to copy an entry's text as long as they also reproduce the license; Goldfarb's Palin article and many others on Knol that copy from Wikipedia don't follow those rules.) Goldfarb's Macau article is lifted from this Macau travel site, his Facebook piece draws from this ad company, and his hotel guides pull from the hotels' Web sites.
Knol is a wasteland of such articles: text copied from elsewhere, outdated entries abandoned by their creators, self-promotion, spam, and a great many old college papers that people have dug up from their files. Part of Knol's problem is its novelty. Google opened the system for public contribution just a couple months ago, so it's unreasonable to expect too much of it at the moment; Wikipedia took years to attract the sort of contributors and editors who've made it the amazing resource it is now.


No comments: