The official Google blog has a post tonight about a new project that's in closed, private beta. The program is called Knols, or "units of knowledge." Knols participants will write reference pages on any topic, using a Google content creation tool apparently in the works, and those pages will be highlighted in Google search results. Authors will choose whether they want ads to appear and will receive a "substantial revenue share."
I think this is going to be a game changer. Check out this sample page below.
Competing Knols pages on the same topic will be judged by reader votes and the Google Search Quality process. There will be reader commenting, the ability to add additional information and more social features. It won't be a walled garden but will live on the open web. Attribution will be substantial and Google is presumably working with high-profile topic specialists on the Knol project.
Somewhere Jason Calacanis, his soul icy as it is, is aglow knowing that his Mahalo concept has been validated by a company that's arguably the most important in the last 100 years. Likewise, there's probably some melancholy toasts due at Squidoo headquarters. Those companies may or may not survive but the real battle will probably be with Wikipedia. Google-built pages may be the only pages that have a bigger advantage in search than the widely linked Wikipedia reference pages.
Update: I talked to Ward Cunningham, inventor of the wiki and Wikipedia board member, today about Knols vs. Wikipedia. Here's what he had to say: "It's trying to set up an economy of writing and the web is a great place to try to experiment with different economies. Wikipedia has already succeeded with one, and these are two different styles. If Google intentionally diverts people from Wikipedia they would be doing a disservice to their readers. Most likely readers will have to chose between the two and Wikipedia already has a very successful brand." That seems like an overly optimistic assessment of the situation to me, but Cunningham certainly could be right. (Disclosure: Ward is also the CTO at Aboutus.org, one of my personal consulting clients.)