Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Next Wikipedia?

Larry Sanger, founding editor of Wikipedia, and Joe Firmage, a networking dork and Carl Sagan fan, are hoping to launch an ambitious project that sounds like the HuffPo of wikis, Digital Universe. The Digital Universe project aims for more than just an encyclopedia; the site will comprise a series of Yahoo!-like portals with content on earth/the environment, health, astronomy, and so on. Each portal will be edited by a supposed expert in its realm and incorporate submitted encyclopedia articles as well as peer-reviewed, expert-written explainer articles and links to books, other websites, and a mix of multimedia content developed both inside Digital Universe and elsewhere.

The merits of Wikipedia's "anyone can edit [almost] any page" philosophy notwithstanding, Wiki is just a bunch of text. Boring. An open-source site that uses 3D-maps a la Google Earth, video clips, and all that jazz will be way cooler. The problem is that they propose to pay their expert "stewards" while giving away the content; the money has come from donations so far, but there will be DSL service available from to help pay the bills and lots of PBS-style pledge drives, from the looks of things. According to the FAQ page, alma mater Boston University is a major donor of the project and partner in the content creation--cool, but we can't figure out why BU would be involved in something that will probably never make any money.


  1. I smell a conspiracy involving the secret defense lab hidden in the photonics center...
    clearly, if BU is involved, money will be made from this...

  2. Saw the blog, thought I'd correct a point. The way--the only way--in which BU is involved (for now) is via BU Prof's Cutler Cleveland's Center for Energy and Environmental Studies. Cleveland is Chair of the Environmental Information Coalition, which is managing the Earth Portal for the DU, as well as Editor in Chief of the new Encyclopedia of Earth (which uses a wiki; I'm advising them on it). BU gives us no money. As far as I'm aware, Cutler is working out of the goodness of his own heart and isn't getting paid.

    Money will be made, but in the service of a noncommercial, nonprofit vision. Both ManyOne and the Digital Universe have managing nonprofit organizations.