Alun Salt, an archaeology PhD student and therefore a elitist expert by Internet standards, used to edit Wikipedia, but after five hundred-odd edits, he decided to give up and become Wikipedian Emeritus. In giving his reasons, he also made a prediction:
From the limited information available it looks like the combination of Knol [see here] and Wikipedia’s policies will be a Wikipedia-killer.
First off Knol will attract experts because of its emphasis on authorship. Additional features like collaborative authoring will attract people who can work together. You can also bet that Google will be marketing Knol as a tool to experts. Even without migration from Wikipedia that will be a blow. The material will be protected from plagiarism. If there’s one company that can find copies on the web, it’s Google.
I find the idea of having one company in charge of hosting content and providing search functionality a little, well, spooky — and yes, that already applies to YouTube and Blogger — but moving on:
Additionally, Knol will have entries on anything, which means it will cover material excluded from Wikipedia. Knol will start grabbing number slots from Wikipedia, which will make Wikipedia an even less attractive site for experts. But Wikipedia will have many legacy links from un-updated websites for decades, so it will slowly fade rather than disappear. It’ll be common to see Knol as result one for a search as it is for Wikipedia today, and Wikipedia will own the number two slot. It’ll also gain a reputation, because who will be left?
The people who don’t create content will stick around Wikipedia where they can police each other. So will cranks, who’ll have free rein on many articles when subject experts leave for Knol. Wikipedia will be known for giving an alternative opinion, in the same way that saying Elvis is alive in Des Moines is an alternative opinion.
The biggest question is how long will it take for Knol to overtake Wikipedia. My guess is that for 12 months after Knol’s launch, Wikipedia will still be number one, and the users remaining here will congratulate each other for seeing off the threat. The occasional search results where Knol beats Wikipedia will be seen as an aberration. Between 12 and 18 months people will notice that Knol beats Wikipedia for most major subjects, there’ll be attempts by Wikipedians to organise other Wikipedians in writing entries, but as the months go on it’ll be noticed that the creative people have disappeared somewhere. 24 months after Knol’s launch you’ll be able to tell if an entry really is notable is by whether or not Knol or Wikipedia is the number one search result.
I’m not sure whether Alun is right or not — Wikipedia is a big enough thing that it’s hard to get a representative sampling of the minds involved. (In the meantime, Wikipedia’s article on Knol should be interesting to watch.) Still, it’s nice to have actual numbers attached to a prediction. Yay falsifiability!
(Hat tip to Martin Rundkvist.)