Google's announcement that they are setting up an online encylopedia to rival Wikipedia could be good news for writers (or at least for some writers who are prepared to compromise a bit). No doubt the word 'knol' (meaning a unit of knowledge) will find it's way into the OED very soon. Unlike Wikipedia, Knol will have a single author for each entry - so won't be a wiki. And that author will be identified and allowed to earn income from the entry via advertising (they can 'montetize' it in the ugly jargon). This is essentially a way of facilitating self-publishing by authors. Authors will also retain copyright. If there is sufficient income stream from advertising (which there could be from very popular entries) Knol could be a way forward for those authors who don't mind earning from this source. It's not clear, however, what control the authors of the articles will have over the kinds of advertising that appear on their pages. But at least someone is thinking that content providers should be recompensed. Could this be the start of something? If I were a conventional publisher I'd be worried by this development.
If I've understood it correctly, it may be a bit like a massively expanded version of the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy in structure, with the addition of a possible income stream from advertising. What will be interesting is to see how Google treats entries by different authors on the same and related topics. Presumably there will have to be a ranking system that recognises the authority of different contributors in some way.
As well as the worry about lack of control about products writers' words are used to advertise, some people are already getting worried that Google will unfairly privilege Knol entries over other Web content when people are doing a Google search (see this article in The Guardian).