What happened to Knol? Announced by Google in late 2007 and launched in July 2008, the site was meant to bring more credible (read: not written by anonymous Wikipedians) "knowledge units" to the web, and it would allow the authors to cash in on their work. But it's 2009, and Knol appears to be notable largely for its non-notability.
First, the good news. Knol users have already published more than 100,000 pieces of knowledge and the project has a (shockingly) quick schedule of incremental releases. According to the Knolologists of Google, "people visit Knol from 197 countries and territories on an average day, from the Aland Islands and Antarctica to Zambia and Zimbabwe."
Knol-body is reading
Traffic for Knol has certainly posed no danger to Wikipedia's position atop most Google search results, as some feared when Knol was first deployed. Indeed, it's rare enough to see a Knol article on the first page of results, and a scan through various Knol pages reinforces this impression of generally low visibility. Even a long, detailed article on IPv6—the sort of thing that would seem to be a natural fit for Knol—attracts only a handful of pageviews a week, with a mere 327 total pageviews. (Wikipedia's entry is number two on the list; Ars has a piece at number nine, but Knol is MIA.)
Indeed, the numbers are low enough that more than 50 pageviews a week appears to put an article in an elite club. Not even "7 Steps to Create Massive Traffic to Your Site" can generate more than a handful of pageviews.
As for the quality of the content, Google's attempt at monetizing (both for itself and for its authors) the Knol entries has had a perverse effect. While it has attracted plenty of detailed commentary from learned professionals, it's drowning in plenty more that is basically spam, plagiarism, or a stub, thrown up in the apparent hope of making some quick cash. (Though because of point number one, that's not happening, either.)
At least Google is aware of the problem and has provided rating and review tools to catch questionable, illegal, or merely bad content. But problems remain.
Take "Barack Obama," for instance. A search for his name brings up 809 entries; since most Knol users appear to write their own entries rather than add to others (for which no compensation is forthcoming), the proliferation of entries is inevitable. And it's not at all clear that the best ones are rising to the top.
The first Obama entry is skeletal, the second and third more substantive but largely reprising the same facts, while the fourth was written by someone who identifies himself as a "Wisdom (brain) coach, President of research foundation, solver of the mystery of wisdom, antique dealer, inventor, knoler, solver of the mystery why the sperm is tiny and the womens [sic] egg is huge." While this sounds like someone I would love to know more about, I'm quite sure that his entry on Obama will be less helpful (as it turns out to be) than the Wikipedia entry on Obama.
Source: Ars Technica