Recently, Google launched a new site called Knol, designed to compete with Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia of the web. According to Google, a Knol represents a 'unit of knowledge', and, like Wikipedia, the site is designed to let users share information.
But Knol is different from Wikipedia in a couple of ways. Firstly, articles that appear on Knol aren't necessarily a collaborative effort as Knol authors can mark their work as 'read only'. This differs from Wikipedia, where most articles are open to input by anyone. Authors of Knols also have more options in terms of copyright of their work.
Secondly, Knol authors have the ability to include advertising with their articles through the use of Google's very successful AdSense (a free advertising program that automatically links the content of the page with the advertising it displays.
Like Wikipedia, Google index all of the pages on Knol so that results show up in the regular search engine. Many pundits wonder whether over time Google will preferentially display Knol articles over their Wikipedia counterparts - a move that could see Knols popularity grow very quickly.
If you're interested, creating your own Knol is easy. If you've already got a Google account all you need to do is click the 'Write a Knol' button and start adding information. The interface is much cleaner and more accessible than Wikipedias and uses a familiar WYSIWYG style editor. Preferences for sharing and adding ads are also easy to find.
Because Knol is just new, the discussion as to its merits are just beginning. A good analysis of the potential of Knol, and the threats it poses to Wikiepedia and other free web based encyclopedias are, ironically, being discussed in a Wikipedia article.