Search engine giant Google is taking on Wikipedia with the development of a user-generated online encyclopedia.

Dubbed the ‘knol’ project after what Google calls a unit of knowledge, the new information source will encourage experts on a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it.

According to Udi Manber, Google’s VP of Engineering:
“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.”

Knol entries, unlike those on Wikipedia, will allow authors to build up a professional reputation by preventing articles from being edited by participants unknown to the author.

Google gave few details about how it would rank submissions to highlight the most accurate or useful, but the group said user ratings would be important.

The search engine will host and provide tools to produce and edit knol pages but will not be doing any of the editing themselves.

In addition, entries that Google thinks are of sufficient quality will be given a higher ranking in the company’s search results.

Manber says:
“Our job in Search Quality will be to rank the knols appropriately when they appear in Google search results.”

The project is currently in beta – once it goes live, contributors to the online resource will be able to share revenues from Google ads on the pages they have written.

Some are questioning whether Google has gone too far, and has moved from indexing content to actually providing it itself.

Certainly Wikipedia, which relies on Google for much of its traffic, will be concerned by the move.