Web of Wonder

It seems we are experiencing a wave of promising new Web applications, a trend I find disheartening only in that I haven’t had as much time to play with them as I’d like.  Point of fact, I could be doing that right now instead of telling you-all about them, but the Webevangelist in me cannot resist sharing the goodies.

First up on my list of new web destinations is Mygazines, a site that describes itself as a “free place to browse, share, archive and customize unlimited magazine articles.”  Uploads are provided by the Mygazines community in the manner of YouTube, and Mygazines will no doubt stir up similar copyright issues.

At this writing much of the content is recent, but the stuff I would most like to see there would be older titles such as Crawdaddy, CREEM, and the short-lived 1973 groupie magazine, Star.  It will be interesting to see what kind of content pops up on the site and what kind of copyright challenges emerge as the site (hopefully) fills up with older content.

There exist worlds of unthinkable riches out there in the way of periodical content, much of which can be quite scarce and expensive to access and which is not likely to be carried by many libraries.  Scanning and uploading articles can be time-consuming and pays nothing apart from the intrinsic satisfaction of contributing to the human record, but isn’t that enough?

Next up for consideration is Knol, the latest installment in Google’s plan for world domination.  Apparently a knol is a unit of knowledge, at least as Google would like us to believe.  Since I can still remember when I thought Google was a cringe-worthy monicker, in this case I am inclined to wait and see what happens.  The buzz about Knol is that it is meant to be Google’s challenge to Wikipedia, and the most intriguing thing about it is that contributors retain primary control over their content.

Other users may suggest changes via comments and may apparently also review knols, but it remains up to the author whether or not to incorporate or acknowledge comments and critiques.  Knol contributors are encouraged to submit a pic and bio, and I am finding the credentials-based thing very appealing.  As much as I have used and appreciate the benefits of collective intelligence ala Wikipedia, I personally prefer knowing who the speaker is and what qualifications they have to offer.

Like Mygazines, Knol is still in early days and has yet to fill up with content, but it holds a great deal of promise.  I would expect populating Knol with articles to be a slower process, because it usually takes longer to generate original content of quality than it does to scan someone else’s. As Jack Kerouac once said, “Walking on water wasn’t built in a day.”  The other aspect of Knol folks have been taking notice of is that apparently contributors may earn a few dollars through adsense revenues if their knols generate enough traffic.  I don’t want to say too much about this because I don’t fully understand how it works, but I personally have no problem whatsoever with Google offering renumeration as an incentive to create high-quality content.

Various objections have been raised to Knol, including the potential for copyright violations and the likelihood that Google search results are already favoring their own content, with the worst-case scenario being that stolen content may rank higher than the original material from which it was plagiarized.  However, people whose creations have been used without credit may presumably bring this to the attention of Knol editors and also add their own comments directing users to the original source material.

Although they are by no means beyond criticism and may yet be eclipsed by some entity that does a better job (or even one that does the same job more transparently), Google has made oodles of cash for its creators Sergey Brin and Larry Page by providing ways of helping people find information and get things done online.  Their detractors accuse Google of establishing as an intellectual monopoly, but could it be that they have made it this far by providing quality services that people want to use?  I think Knol will ultimately succeed or fail based on the quality of the content, and I would suggest that we revisit the subject in a year and see what Google has built.

I also think what will distinguish Knol from Wikipedia is its potential for both highly focused and cross-disciplinary approaches to a given subject.  Since Wikipedia articles would most accurately be described as providing a broad overview of a subject, they may very well continue to successfully occupy the middle ground of the information landscape.  Time will tell, but I am more excited than concerned about Knol, and I strongly believe there is more than enough room on the Web for Wikipedia, Knol, and any other entity that makes it easier for users to find the information they need.

Since I have been without Photoshop since my G5 pooped out several months ago and the HP software that came with my printer/scanner doesn’t like to crop, I have been using online image editing apps.  My favorite has been Pic Resize, mainly because it has a lot of features but is simple and intuitive to use for even minimally competent fumblers like yours truly.

I see this free service is currently engaged in a fund drive to upgrade to better servers and improve their load times, so I am suggesting you consider contributing a few shekels.  It so happens the fund drive ends on my birthday, September 9.  How cosmic is that?  Well, I guess now that I’ve opened my big mouth, I’ll have to give them some of my birthday money.  And yes, I am turning 49 and my mother still gives me cash on my birthday.  I could never be heartless enough to deny her this simplest of pleasures, and neither should you.

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