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Google also faces the difficult task of generating a useful body of knowledge from scratch. According to Wikipedia, it has taken more than seven years to generate its 9.25 million articles. “There’s really no shortcut to getting this kind of coverage,” says Pellegrini.

But Google is well positioned to provide a monetary incentive for content generation through its advertising programs, such as AdSense. If Knol attracts the number of users Wikipedia currently enjoys, Google has an opportunity to publish an equivalent number of ads. And some of that revenue would find its way to content providers. Manber writes, “If an author [of a Knol article] chooses to include ads, Google will provide the author with substantial revenue share from the proceeds of those ads.”

These payments are likely to be modest, however, especially when the site is newly launched and doesn’t yet have enough content to attract many readers. And Kagan believes that for many online content contributors, small payments from revenue-sharing programs will prove less of an incentive than the desire to share something they are passionate about. He points to the example of the revenue-sharing video website Revver, which has yet to approach the popularity of YouTube. “Many times, paying users to do things they wouldn’t genuinely do proves not to work,” Kagan says.

Google is betting that, if it can generate enough content, its expertise in search–and the effectiveness of peer review–will give it a competitive advantage. But while reader rating systems are common on sites that review goods and services, such as epinions and Amazon.com, it’s unclear how effective they will be as a means of promoting user-generated content. Manber writes, “Google will not serve as an editor in any way, and will not bless any content.” Wikipedia and peer-reviewed journals, by contrast, have mechanisms for preventing the proliferation of inaccurate content. Peer-reviewed journals publish only those articles deemed worthy by a group of the author’s academic contemporaries. Wikipedia articles are constantly edited by numerous authors, so bogus information is typically removed quickly. In 2005, Nature found that there was not a substantial difference between the accuracy of scientific articles on Wikipedia and those in the Encyclopedia Britannica.

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