The Wikimedia folk have been muttering for a while about taking on Internet search companies such as Google, but I suspect that Google is more likely to be able to displace them than vice-versa.
Earlier this week, we started inviting a selected group of people to try a new, free tool that we are calling “knol”, which stands for a unit of knowledge. Our goal is to encourage people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it. The tool is still in development and this is just the first phase of testing. For now, using it is by invitation only. … A knol on a particular topic is meant to be the first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read. The goal is for knols to cover all topics, from scientific concepts, to medical information, from geographical and historical, to entertainment, from product information, to how-to-fix-it instructions. Google will not serve as an editor in any way, and will not bless any content … For many topics, there will likely be competing knols on the same subject. … 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. … Once testing is completed, participation in knols will be completely open, and we cannot expect that all of them will be of high quality. Our job in Search Quality will be to rank the knols appropriately when they appear in Google search results. We are quite experienced with ranking web pages, and we feel confident that we will be up to the challenge.
I’m waiting to see what Eszter and Siva have to say about this before I can start to think in earnest about this, but given Google’s clout and resources I imagine that this project is much more likely to have legs than, say, Citizendium.
Update: See also Nicholas Carr.