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Why Knol Failed: A Dire Lack of Peter Arno

Peter Arno CartoonOnce again, Google is swinging its corporate axe at secondary projects. It’s killing also-ran Facebook Connect rival Google Friend Connect. (I assume it’ll eventually introduce something similar built around Google+.) It’s doing away with Google Wave and Google News Timeline. (Wait, weren’t they dead already?)

And it’s closing Knol. Depending on how you looked at it, Knol was either a lot like Wikipedia (it was meant to be an immense user-generated repository of the world’s knowledge) or not much at all like Wikipedia (opinion was welcome, and contributors had a shot at making money from their articles). I started out skeptical about the service, then got intrigued before deciding it was off to a lousy start.

Knol didn’t get much better with time. Whenever I checked in, the items on the home page were mostly a bit odd, a bit spammy, or both. Google has an exit strategy for Knol content: It can be exported to a WordPress-based platform called Annotum. But Knol’s termination is really just a formality–it never lived up to any of the big plans Google once had for it.

Still, Knol started out promising. It certainly sounded interesting in the launch story by Wired’s Steven Levy. He wrote about the service’s inventor, Google exec/search pioneer Udi Manber, and began with an anecdote that resonated with me. Manber, Levy wrote, was moved to create Knol because he was felt that the Web was still full of “black holes”–important topics that were insufficiently documented. Such as the life and work of the wonderful New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno. (Manber, it turns out, is, like me, a cartoon fan.)

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