Remember Google’s Knol? The company’s answer to Wikipedia? If you don’t, you are not alone. Indeed, it’s questionable whether Google itself remembers Knol. As the intrepid Google-watchers at the Google Operating System pointed out yesterday, not only does the site seem to suffer from major performance issues, but the site’s software hasn’t been updated for over a year now. Before that, Google updated the site’s release notes at least once per month.
While it started out as a product with lots of hype and some good activity from its users and even support from some scientific communities, Knol today is simply a mess. While the homepage shows a widget with the most discussed, top viewed and highest rated Knols, none of those links actually work. There are still featured articles on the site, but the fact that these receive fewer than 200 pageviews per week indicates the low level of traffic on the site today. The articles featured under the “What’s New” headline are often more than a month – and sometimes more than a year – old. The view count for these articles on the homepage is also completely off and just loading the homepage currently often takes close to a minute. As Frank Watson notes on SearchEngineWatch, the site also suffers from issues with its RSS feeds and from a steady influx of spammers.
There does seem to be a healthy science community on Knol, though, which could make it harder for Google to shut the site down quietly.
For now, it looks like Google has simply abandoned the site and whoever used to be in charge of upkeep has moved on. Keeping it up and running is probably so cheap that it’s easy enough for a company of Google’s size. With Google Notebook, it has set a precedent for keeping abandoned services up and running without developing them any further. Maybe that’s what the company is trying to do here as well.