Google's latest is a new site, Knol, which is basically a rival of Wikipedia. According to Google, a "knol" is a unit of knowledge written about a subject. If you write a knol, you get to take author credit for it, post your credentials, and seek feedback about your knol. Knol readers can comment on a knol, but they can't change its content. Instead of allowing anyone to edit a knol, Google allows multiple knols on the same topic. Google explains that the "Knol project is a forum for encouraging individual voices and perspectives on topics," so readers are free to write their own knol to counter the information presented in another knol.
If you visit the Knol page, you can see that the site is very much in its infancy. There aren't many knols available right now. But it's an interesting concept and, as always, we will be watching to see if Knol's popularity begins to rival Wikipedia anytime soon.
And a small rant: When I was at AALL last week, a vendor who shall remain nameless denounced Wikipedia as useless during his presentation, apparently thinking he would score points with librarians by doing so. Here's what I have to say to that: There is nothing wrong with using Wikipedia as one tool in an arsenal of research tools. In fact, I often find it to be a huge time-saver. When I'm starting research on a topic on which I know nothing, I often find Wikipedia articles to be an extremely useful introduction to a topic, especially the links to related websites that address the topic. For an example of a Wikipedia article on a hot legal topic, check out the article, "Guantanamo Bay detention camp." Here's the key -- I never stop searching after I find a relevant Wikipedia article. I glean information from it, then use that information to help me create searches within reputable sources that I know I can cite to. Treat Wikipedia articles with some caution, sure, and don't cite them in scholarly papers, but don't avoid Wikipedia like the plague, especially when you're trying to conduct cost-effective, efficient legal research.