Annotum - A New Beginning
Google's Knol Is Now Annotum
For those who don't know, Google recently announced that Knol (Google's self-published information site) would soon cease to exist and as of May 2012 Knol became known as Annotum. Here's the official announcement from Google Knol announcing the move:
"An important update about knol
Knol will be moving to Annotum on May 1, 2012
Knol will be discontinued as a service, but we've worked with Solvitor and Crowd Favorite to create Annotum, an open-source platform based upon WordPress that allows you to continue authoring and publishing scholarly articles. You can migrate your knols to WordPress and continue your work with Annotum. After May 1, you will no longer be able to create, view, enter or edit knols, but you will be able to export your knols to WordPress.com and download them to file through October 1st, 2012.
Knol was opened in 2008 as a platform for user submitted articles, much like Squidoo, Hubpages, eZine Articles, Infobarrel and others. However, the Knol platform never quite reached the level of success Google had intended and therefore they've now abandoned it and given their support to the newly developed Annotum platform which is apparently geared for "scholarly" type articles and reviews.
Now that Annotum has some time under its belt I'm updating this article with a new review section below. While much of this article was originally written to announce the news of Knol's move, I felt it would be fitting to simply maintain the original post and add the update. I hope you find it helpful.
Has Annotum Risen To The Occasion?
Or Is This Knol Part Duex? An Updated Look
This is an update to the original article which appear below this segment.
The smoke has cleared and the dust settled, so now we're able to get a clearer picture of what it is that Annotum offers in terms of providing a scholarly, peer-reviewed online article base. The folks at Annotum have been busy and diligent, tweaking and building their Wordpress theme; adding new features and working the bugs out. I'm writing this review from the perspective of why I, or anyone, would use Annotum over other available writing platforms, scholarly or otherwise.
From what I've read from those who actually use it, Annotum seems to be doing an alright job at the very least. I get the impression that even if the traction isn't there yet, completely, to solidify Annotum as an authoritative source, that it's on the way. And in fairness, that's to be expected (that initial growth and support would be slow), even if a big dog like Google throws their weight into the fight with you.
Annotum Version 1.1 was recently released (December 2012), and with this update many of the bugs that had irked users were addressed. You can take a look at the release notes here. The problem remains that Annotum is dependent on the source provider, Wordpress. With the latest Wordpress release there were new bug issues for Annotum to address, which highlights one of the biggest hurdles that Annotum will have to face- will users love the dog enough to forgive him for continuously chasing his tail? Every time there's a source update, Annotum Wordpress theme users will have to deal with compatibility issues, and that might not be just a small thing.
Add to that, let's remember why Knol wasn't exactly the WikiKiller that it hyped itself up to be... Wikipedia succeeds because it takes one specific topic at a time, let's authors collaborate on that same topic (disputing facts), on that same web page, and provide users a quick and accurate resource with citations. With Knol, and with Annotum it seems, that just isn't going to be the case. Sure, there's a great deal of improvement in allowing topics to be linked and grouped, but it's not the same experience, even for a scholarly audience. In the end, it seems to me, that Annotum is a great Wordpress "theme platform" which happens to be great for co-authoring on articles and scholarly work, but that's it. For a university research project, where broad collaboration is necessary, then Annotum will do well as is, considering available alternatives. It just makes me wonder why there isn't a web based solution that avoids the problems that the Wordpress theme alternative seems to have.
Let me be clear, there's still a lot of ball to be played here... Annotum is gaining ground and may very well succeed in areas where Knol didn't or couldn't. But these issues I've brought up are real ones. And in deference to Carl, the founder of Annotum, who graciously visited and posted in the comment section below, I know they're working hard to bring about a quality product, and it's very clear they have their hearts into this and will do everything they can to make it happen. I'm just bringing up issues that I see and letting the reader form their own opinion. I welcome yours, too, in the comments section.
Photo by Creative Commons - Sergio Roberto Bichara
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A Death Knell To Knol - Annotum To The Rescue?
Not So Fast.... Skippy
Squidoo's founder, Seth Godin, recently posted on his a blog an article titled "When Google comes calling," and in it he reminiscences about a time when some folks had all but written Squidoo off because Google (the "800 pound gorilla") decided to throw their hat into the personal publishing arena. Seth's post is apparently in response to the announcement that Knol is closing shop and moving it's resources over to Annotum.
Seth goes on to discuss how Squidoo would not only survive the apparently inevitable beat down that Google had planned, but would thrive because of one key thing- Squidoo focuses on their customers, those who care about and use Squidoo. And when you think about it Google's approach was business as usual, to focus on the business end, the dollars and cents, rather than the people that would ultimately decide the fate of each. There's no mistaking that Knol had its measure of success and certainly its followers, but not to the extent that Squidoo (and others) have had. Whether Annotum will be better than Knol remains to be seen.
As a user it's clear to see why Knol couldn't succeed at their attempted smack down of the user-submitted article segment. It's true that most people felt Knol was after the Wikipedia market; and Knol is a much more sterile, Wikipedia-like environment, not at all like the friendly "hang out" that Squidoo represents. People like to be on Squidoo because it's fun! People like to share Squidoo articles for the same reason. Sure, Knol undoubtedly has a great amount of knowledge and resources available thanks to its contributors, but wading through those resources was/is an exercise in boredom. And that's not to say that much of the material published isn't/wasn't good, it is. But in general the look and feel was more academic than coffee table. Squidoo built a creative and social platform into knowledge sharing.
Photo by Creative Commons - Milan Jurek
Did Knol & Does Annotum Intend To Compete...
With platforms such as Squidoo and Hubpages?
It looks, for all intents and purposes, like Google fully intended on cornering (or at least battling for) the self-publishing segment and failed in that regard. Google issued an announcement on their blog titled "Encouraging people to contribute knowledge" back in December 2007 that read in part:
"Google will not serve as an editor in any way, and will not bless any content. All editorial responsibilities and control will rest with the authors. We hope that knols will include the opinions and points of view of the authors who will put their reputation on the line. Anyone will be free to write. For many topics, there will likely be competing knols on the same subject. Competition of ideas is a good thing."
"Knols will include strong community tools. People will be able to submit comments, questions, edits, additional content, and so on. Anyone will be able to rate a knol or write a review of it. Knols will also include references and links to additional information. At the discretion of the author, a knol may include ads. If an author chooses to include ads, Google will provide the author with substantial revenue share from the proceeds of those ads."
So it can be assumed that Google did intend to achieve something more than they were able to, and that the realization that the existing Knol platform could not compete profitably with the more social and artistic sites led to their choice to support the development of Annotum along with some mutually interested partners.
Annotum however does not at all appear poised to, or intent on, competing on the same level as the more social or creative self-publishing platforms. From the Annotum site it is written that two of the objectives of Annotum are to:
- Develop a simple, robust, easy-to-use authoring system to create and edit scholarly articles
- Deliver an editorial review and publishing system that can be used to submit, review, and publish scholarly articles
This sounds to me as if the contents of Annotum will be more along the lines of Wikipedia than Squidoo (sounds a lot like Knol to me!). But that doesn't mean they'll review and scrutinize your articles. In fact one page of the Annotum site says so and states that it'll be up to the site owner to publish and determine who has authority to review their content. If Annotum is able to somehow pull off a scholarly level of credibility it could be argued that some people seeking information (specifically authoritative information) on a topic might choose a link to Annotum over other sources if they have the perception (real or not) that Annotum offers a more authoritative product. So it is feasible that Annotum could steal some of that traffic from more casual sites. In fact it seems almost certain that if the Annotum platform is able to capture a following of scholarly authors, and if they are able to somehow control and verify the authority of those authors and their subsequent content, then it is bound to corner the market in their niche. But those are big if's. Because if they cannot offer an assurance of author/source credibility then it seems unclear how Annotum could hope to compete.
Also interesting is the choice that was made to base Annotum (unlike Knol) on the Wordpress platform. Annotum requires users to log into Wordpress.com and create a free account, and subsequently set up a Wordpress.com hosted blog from which authors will post their content. Of course authors can self host the Wordpress blog, like many of us bloggers already do. The good news is that it's an open source platform and it can be expected that Annotum will grow quite rapidly with a robust set of features for authors.
It should be noted that Annotum is just a Wordpress theme that users install on either their self-hosted Wordpress sites or on a free site hosted by Wordpress.com. To get your Annotum theme go to the Annotum Base page here. I'll be installing it on one of my blogs soon and give it a try.
We already know that:
"Annotum will build upon the WordPress platform as a foundation, filling in the gaps by providing the following additional features:
Rich, web-based authoring and editing: 'What you see is what you get' (WYSIWYG) authoring with rich toolset (equations, figures, tables, citations and references) coauthoring, comments, version tracking, and revision comparisons."
As an aside, anyone who earns their income by writing online should become very familiar with the latest SEO factors that matter; here's a great page to start with.
Top 10 Article Directories
Here is a listing of the top 10 Article Submission websites and their relevant rankings which may be of interest to writers. To view an updated listing of these rankings, visit the source at VRE Toolbar.
Alexa Rating measures how much traffic and unique visitors a site has. Lower number equals more traffic.
Google Page Rank relates to the "perceived" authority and value of a website, as determined by Google. A higher Page Rank is better, and it ranks from 0 - 10.
Looking below at the "original" ranking of Knol, before their move to Annotum, you can see that Google's Knol was ranked at the top in terms of authority and traffic, sitting at number 1 for a long time.
As of December 16, 2011, the top 5 Article Directories by Alexa Rating and Page Rank:
1. knol.google.com 1 - 7
2. ehow.com 146 - 7
3. squidoo.com 209 - 7
4. hubpages.com 295 - 6
5. ezinearticles.com 304 - 6
Does Annotum Matter To You?
A lot of people who blog and write do so professionally; that is, they hope to either make some extra money or even make a living from their writing (either through advertising revenue or affiliate commissions). Yes, even scholarly writers do so for the most part in hopes of increasing their earnings or stature. And while Annotum will almost certainly offer some viable options for monetizing the blogs, like regular blogs, the problem will be whether or not they can generate traffic, and whether or not mainstream writers will have a platform, depending upon how the "peer review" part of Annotum eventually works out. For example, someone may have an enormous amount of knowledge, on for example SEO, but not have the credentials to back up their writing. Will they have a problem with getting peer reviews to "authenticate" their articles?
For this and a lot of other reasons I think Squidoo and similar services will remain the defacto standard for average writers hoping to monetize their work on a hosted platform. The traffic and popularity of these sites speak for themselves, and in a world where monetizing our written work is king, traffic and popularity are trump cards. And while I readily acknowledge that Annotum doesn't appear intent on competing in casual or creative writing categories, even scholarly authors can find their voice on existing platforms and simply may not be compelled to make the move to Annotum. I guess the confusion stems from Knol's originally stated intent and their current migration to Annotum. Google's About.com writes that "Annotum is attempting to create a publishing standard for peer-reviewed scholarly journals," yet in other places it's written that authors can write whatever they want... there seems to be a conflict in message so their intent is not clear. Will Annotum be a "site for all" or a site for those publishing scholarly, peer-reviewed articles (only)?
Update 01/05/12: I've recently been made aware of the page, linked below, which details some of the uses envisioned for Annotum. This use map certainly clears some questions I had when writing this lens and it seems that the intent of Annotum is purely scholarly, or at the very least "authoritative" collaborations, with the ultimate goal of ensuring very accurate and detailed information.
For a bit more on the "intended" use cases for Annotum, please see this page on the Annotum site.
Did Knol Matter To You?
Prior to its closing, had you ever written a Knol?
Had You Written A Knol Before?
What About Annotum?
Have You Visited The New Annotum Site?
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