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Digital Universe and ManyOne
December 20, 2005 8:26 PM   Subscribe

Digital Universe, an alternative to Wikipedia, has been launched by wikipedia proposer Larry Sanger. Digital Universe will be powered by ManyOne, a new 3D browser, will include paid experts, a subscription option, and will require real names from contributors. This may or may not be connected to Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales' editing his own bio to remove reference to Sanger as co-founder.
posted by MetaMonkey (49 comments total)

 
Will it be permissible to copy Wikipedia entries into it, at least as a starting point? My impression is that most Wikipedia content is Creative Commons licensed. If so, Digital Universe could take off very quickly -- and even surpass Wikipedia in a short time.

That's the interesting thing about truly open-source knowledge bases. As w/ open-source software, if one project is widely perceived as unreliable or even a little buggy, someone else can come along and take the best of it to create something better.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 8:31 PM on December 20, 2005


I can't see an information source being worthwhile unless it tries to be comprehensive. An interface that's graphically rich like this will usually neglect things with less information to focus on things that make for a better presentation.
posted by setanor at 8:42 PM on December 20, 2005


Whatever link this has to Wikipedia is extremely tenuous; Digital Universe looks like a much more ambitious concept. A Day In The Life gives you an idea of what they're shooting for.

There's a lot of interesting ideas here, but it's not at all focused (what is it? a "daily newspaper"? an encyclopedia? a warehouse of research? a pretty 3D globe?) and there's a strange geographic focus that doesn't mesh with the traditional encyclopedic model. It's all well and good to use the globe as a navigational tool if you're looking up infant mortality rates in Texas, but what connection does geography have to the Human Genome Project or existentialism?

Finally, I don't see how the open collaboration aspect fits in. The site makes several references to open collaboration but it's obvious it won't be the pseudo-democratic editing model of Wikipedia. Vague references to "community news" and "collaboration" mean next to nothing. Will people actually be able to add to the knowledge base in a meaningful way, or will it be more like a glorified comments system, with articles written only by authors given authority by DU?
posted by chrominance at 8:45 PM on December 20, 2005


So let me get this right, you have to use their special 3D browser to use this new super-wiki? A browser that only runs on Windows? That would seem to break everything that wikis are good for.
posted by octothorpe at 8:45 PM on December 20, 2005


It looks neat, but how exactly are they planning to swoop around in 3D when I'm looking for, say, what Screech is up to these days.
posted by SweetJesus at 8:48 PM on December 20, 2005


I have not the faintest idea what it is or how I am supposed to use it.

Hint: Wikipedia succeeded because of its fanatical userbase.
posted by unSane at 8:58 PM on December 20, 2005


Cage fight!
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:04 PM on December 20, 2005


UnSane, that's what I was trying to say in my normal incoherent way. The great thing about wikis is how easy they are for anyone to use for both reading and writing. If you make it harder to access and harder to add to and update, you lose most of the advantage that wikis have. I'm just not seeing the point of this thing at all. (Unless the point is just to get as much venture capital as possible with an empty flashy concept; I didn't that trick worked so well anymore)
posted by octothorpe at 9:07 PM on December 20, 2005


Sounds like somone smoked too much pot in a University HCI department.
posted by Paris Hilton at 9:09 PM on December 20, 2005


Not that what I said made that much sense. HCI = Human computer interaction, by the way.
posted by Paris Hilton at 9:09 PM on December 20, 2005


Ah -- brought to you by Joe Firmage
"Joe Firmage - the Fox Mulder of Silicon Valley- resigned yesterday from the firm [USWeb] he founded so he could promote his belief that many of today's high-tech advancements, including semiconductors, fiber optics and lasers, came from aliens."
posted by ericb at 9:14 PM on December 20, 2005


this whole thing is starting to become amusing.
posted by wakko at 9:16 PM on December 20, 2005


Aliens: The Sequel
"Firmage's subsequent departure from USWeb -- which, at the time, was merging with CKS, another prominent Web design firm -- was swift; the media coverage of his book ['The Truth'] was not kind. Words like "nuts" and "crazy" followed his every move.
posted by ericb at 9:18 PM on December 20, 2005


Nothing in Firmage's background would suggest any out-of- the-ordinary beliefs. Clean-cut, polite and articulate, he was raised in a modest Salt Lake City home...

Uh huh.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:19 PM on December 20, 2005


Well, it's about time:
Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and, to coin one at random, "memex" will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.

It consists of a desk, and while it can presumably be operated from a distance, it is primarily the piece of furniture at which he works. On the top are slanting translucent screens, on which material can be projected for convenient reading. There is a keyboard, and sets of buttons and levers. Otherwise it looks like an ordinary desk.
As We May Think by Vannevar Bush, July 1945.
posted by cenoxo at 9:19 PM on December 20, 2005


Portals in Space
"In 1998, Joe Firmage took the risky step of disclosing a visionary experience that convinced him of a connection between the world's religions and high-tech advances and visitors from outer space.

The furor surrounding Firmage's revelations coincided with the young multimillionaire entrepreneur's resignation from his position as chief executive of USWeb/CKS. Firmage subsequently became associated with Ann Druyan, a respected science writer and the widow of famed astronomer Carl Sagan, and withdrew from public scrutiny to devise what he and Druyan described as a science-based entertainment portal."
Read more from CNET News.com's 2003 interview with Joe Firmage.
posted by ericb at 9:22 PM on December 20, 2005


Having myself just recently emerged from a school with an HCI program, what Paris Hilton said made a lot of sense, actually.

Though I respect Larry Sanger and agree with some of the differences he has with Wikipedia, at first glance, this project seems like a fascinating bauble, but ..... a wiki? In what sense?

Then again, it's not as if Wikipedia couldn't benefit from some interesting competition, either.
posted by blucevalo at 9:24 PM on December 20, 2005


cenoxo: That clearly wasn't written in 1945, they would have called it a memomatic.
posted by Paris Hilton at 9:24 PM on December 20, 2005


What sort of fool would volunteer their expertise and time so a commercial company can profit from their efforts?
posted by Osmanthus at 9:24 PM on December 20, 2005


'Ex-CEO Alienated by Scurrilous Press - Joseph Firmage'
posted by ericb at 9:26 PM on December 20, 2005


Having myself just recently emerged from a school with an HCI program, what Paris Hilton said made a lot of sense, actually.

I just meant it didn't make strict sense in that a 'unversity department' is not a physical place you might smoke in. I could have said something "sounds like something thought up by some stoned HCI grad students" but this guy doesn't seem to be affiliated with a grad program ... perhaps "He's hanging out with too many stoner HCI students" but that's not really a very strong statement, in addition to being clichéd. (the 'hanging out' part)
posted by Paris Hilton at 9:28 PM on December 20, 2005


Joe Firmage Refines His Message -- Portals Will Compete With Wikipedia
"“Two and a half years ago, Joe Firmage (famous for founding USWeb, infamous for some of his views about visitors from outer space) gave an interview with News.com about his latest project -- and was barely comprehensible. Even the interviewer interrupts him halfway through to say he's not sure what he's talking about. In it, he discusses how commercialization is destroying ‘the architectural efficacy of navigation,’ along with the idea of self-sustaining 3D portals of information supported by ‘a new caching system for the Mozilla browser that lets you present Xbox-quality experiences on a dial-up modem’ using ‘a natural taxonomy where we use nature, as described by science, to describe what's inside, and what is related to what.’ As for how it would be financially viable, he expected to partner with ISPs to sell... um... ISP service that would let people access his new 3D portals. It's not clear why they would do this, but he seemed to believe that being associated with his company would ‘be a Good Housekeeping seal of approval.’ In the past two and a half years, it appears they've spent some time refining the idea, and are are now set to launch under the Digital Universe brand -- though, the message has changed somewhat. There are still some similarities to that early ‘vision,’ ….Instead, it's morphed into a Wikipedia wannabe with certain articles in certain portals approved by experts (apparently having a PhD. qualifies you). The plan still seems to be to support it by selling ISP services -- but now the plan is to sell branded ISP services through various non-profits. Of course, nowhere is it explained why people will want to buy ISP service from a non-profit.”
posted by ericb at 9:31 PM on December 20, 2005


This is a great idea, but it sounds like the implementation is going to kill it. A 3-D browser? What the flying fuck?

Information should be in HTML, not VRML. People don't have time to zoom over crap and land on a box they are interested in. They just want to drop some text into a search form, read the information, and leave.
posted by mathowie at 9:35 PM on December 20, 2005


beliving in space aliens isn't any sillier then beliving in jesus.

Discuss.
posted by Paris Hilton at 9:35 PM on December 20, 2005


beliving in space aliens isn't any sillier then beliving in jesus.

Agreed ... but no one claims Jesus invented semiconductors.
posted by ericb at 9:38 PM on December 20, 2005


Truth and Consequences
"[His] book will reveal, Firmage says, the most 'astonishing' proof to date that extraterrestrial beings have been making cameo appearances on Earth for about the last 2,000 years, and that 51 years ago the 'teachers,' as he calls them, revealed themselves to the U.S. government in the New Mexico desert, planting the seeds of the digital age. Firmage says that most of what we here in Silicon Valley have 'created' and innovated was originally derived from an alien spaceship crash in Roswell, N.M., the wreckage of which was 'reverse engineered'and released to select companies by the government over the last 50 years."
posted by ericb at 9:43 PM on December 20, 2005


Actually I think it would be cool if you could 'geotag' information in something like wikipedia. Then you have your Cellphone or PDA or whatever and you can call up all the information that people thought notable and relates to where you are, or you could browse around something like google maps to discover information about various places.

Wikipedia has something sort of like that, with their separate languages, except people who speak other languages can't see other zones.

Anyway, this thing sounds ridiculous, and the ideas are hardly novel.
posted by Paris Hilton at 9:43 PM on December 20, 2005


but no one claims Jesus invented semiconductors

Please read this pamphlet from the Church of Holy Transistubstantiation.
posted by cortex at 9:44 PM on December 20, 2005


It's exactly the kind of thing people used to make prototypes of as undergraduate "mulktimedia" projects back in the 90s, when I did (yes) a HCI course filled with people who smoked too much pot. Only it might work a bit better and it's not intended to be on CD-ROM.

Also: VRML
posted by Artw at 9:50 PM on December 20, 2005


Have they actually mentioned VRML, btw, or are we all just gleefully making the comparison to be snarky?

I worked on a VRML modeler as an undergraduate. In '01. This was not my fault.
posted by cortex at 9:58 PM on December 20, 2005


Fascinating -- looks like Sanger's stepped in something potentially yucky. I don't see how this possibly will end up as a Wikipedia competitor, even if it ends up being, um, used. It really does seem warmed over 90s.

Incidentally, the self-edits were pointed out by mefite rcade.
posted by dhartung at 10:07 PM on December 20, 2005


To be clear: they say Digital Universe is a non-profit, ManyOne is for profit.
posted by Osmanthus at 10:12 PM on December 20, 2005


‘a new caching system for the Mozilla browser that lets you present Xbox-quality experiences on a dial-up modem’

Woohoo! Bring on the VC money!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:12 PM on December 20, 2005


On further consideration: This looks about as useful and likely to succeed as Al Gore's cable network. *sigh*
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 10:16 PM on December 20, 2005


Paris Hilton said: That clearly wasn't written in 1945, they would have called it a memomatic.

Ah, add about 25 years and a little imagination to the original Memomatic concept, and we'll probably see a "Memomex."
posted by cenoxo at 10:17 PM on December 20, 2005


To be clear: they say Digital Universe is a non-profit

Well, at least they got that part of the business plan right.
posted by unSane at 10:18 PM on December 20, 2005


‘a new caching system for the Mozilla browser that lets you present Xbox-quality experiences on a dial-up modem’

Woohoo! Bring on the VC money!


What better use could there be for this technology than, um, um, um, I know!! An encyclopedia!!!
posted by unSane at 10:20 PM on December 20, 2005


cenoxo: The Vannevar piece is neat. Reminds me of some even earlier stuff: Paul Outlet, and of course the "world brain" of our old friend H.G. Wells.
posted by washburn at 10:21 PM on December 20, 2005


I know a lot of people are already fans of Wikipedia, due to the natural community that builds around group collaboration, editing and validation. The critics have always jumped on the issue of 'public' works however, given that any person would be able to edit a primary document of sorts. Digital Universe seems to be the natural response to Wikipedia, given the critics and probably fundamental differences in philosophy.

Arguing about whether or not the idea is rather outdated, given that the project already is launching. I think the best everyone can do now is simply help whichever version they like and see which one matures into the most beneficial site. The voice of the internet tends to prevail and I think this case is no exception. Who knows, maybe both sites will flourish and everyone is better off..
posted by MJ6 at 10:34 PM on December 20, 2005


washburn, thanks for that Paul Otlet reference.

In libraries, I still think the card catalog has a place. Many times patrons have penciled in comments or where related material can be found. Online catalogs may be fast, but they're rarely considerate.

Browsing through the shelves of any large library, it's also sad to see so many books that have not been checked out for years. Alexandria redux, page by page...
posted by cenoxo at 11:23 PM on December 20, 2005


From what I can tell, Joe Firmage has been planning this website since 1999, well before Sanger would have been associated with it.
The short version seems to be that Firmage had a spiritual encounter with a space alien in 1997 and went nuts off his rocker and wrote about it in a book called 'The Truth' where he talks about aliens giving us technology at Roswell and also mentions his plans to build this website.
So the roots of this project are not so much in wikipedia as the utopian dream of a UFO cultist.
posted by Osmanthus at 11:26 PM on December 20, 2005


Artifice_Eternity: "Will it be permissible to copy Wikipedia entries into it, at least as a starting point? My impression is that most Wikipedia content is Creative Commons licensed. If so, Digital Universe could take off very quickly -- and even surpass Wikipedia in a short time."

I thought Sanger didn't like what Wikipedia was producing - it would seem hypocritical to complain about it, then use it. Plus I don't think some of the Digital Universe's plans work with Wikipedia's copyleft.

mathowie: "This is a great idea, but it sounds like the implementation is going to kill it. A 3-D browser? What the flying fuck?"

I note the FAQ does allow for other browsers.

"The content of the Digital Universe will be freely available to anyone through any Web browser. However, the ManyOne browser is designed to support advanced rich-media presentation capabilities, and a 3-D browsing and navigation environment. The result is a knowledge representation and visualization experience without precedent online."

That said, if Wikipedia has problems, they aren't with the ease of access for reading...
posted by Auz at 1:43 AM on December 21, 2005


Digital Universe seems to be the natural response to Wikipedia

I think you mean "Digital Universe attempts to be a response to Wikipedia, and the desire to provide competition is natural." Have you actually visited DU? As soon as a Quicktime movie started up, I was out of there. People don't go to encyclopedias for a whiz-bang multimedia mindblowing experience, they go for facts. The only thing wrong with Wikipedia is that the facts are not correct as often as one would like (meaning substantially less often than in, say, the Britannica). To call DU the "natural response" is like saying the natural response to the counterfeitability of the dollar is to create a mechanical chicken and call it the new currency.
posted by languagehat at 5:33 AM on December 21, 2005


So if all this technology came from aliens, how come those tall Greys in Close Encounters weren't sporting iPods? They should have had iPods. And should also have been seen in silhouette, except for the headphones.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:36 AM on December 21, 2005


"To call DU the "natural response" is like saying the natural response to the counterfeitability of the dollar is to create a mechanical chicken and call it the new currency."

Bwahaaaaa! That was awesome.

The only way DU will be cool is if I can put on special gloves and control it manually, like Tom Cruise in Minority Report.

and NOT like the Nintendo powerglove. That thing sucked.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 6:39 AM on December 21, 2005


I tend to agree with the consensus - pretty good idea, pretty crazy implementation.

But now that the world has woken up to the fact that there are alternatives to Wikipedia, perhaps some less crazy people will give it a go.

I predict a proliferation of such encyclopedic businesses/projects in the next year or three. With wikipedia generating so much traffic and publicity and so little money, the VC's are bound to catch on soon. If Wikipedia cannot accomodate fairly obvious improvements and encourage actual experts, they may well go the way of Nupedia or Altavista.
posted by MetaMonkey at 12:00 PM on December 21, 2005


The only thing wrong with Wikipedia is that the facts are not correct as often as one would like (meaning substantially less often than in, say, the Britannica).

As of the start of November 2005, the English Wikipedia alone had over 816,000 articles of any length, and the combined Wikipedias for all other languages greatly exceeded the English Wikipedia in size, giving a combined total of 735 million words in 3.7 million articles in over 200 languages.

The 2002 version of Encyclopædia Britannica had approximately 120,000 articles in the online version and 85,000 in print.

I don't know how many decades it has taken Encyclopædia Britannica to reach that size but it has taken Wikipedia about 5 years to hit the size it is at now and is repeatedly showing growth in the 5 to 7 percent range for new articles every month.

Now I understand that size of the encyclopedia isn't the only factor that should be considered when judging the quality but I've got to believe that the sheer amount of contributors are going to drive the level of accuracy to new heights. Consider the recent analysis by Nature magazine which compared the two for accuracy. It was pretty close to being a tie with Encyclopædia Britannica winning but Wikipedia just behind. What is interesting is they both had an even amount of "serious errors" in the sampling.

Maybe I'm an optimist but for the long bet I'm putting my money on open source knowledge.
posted by jasenlee at 12:49 PM on December 21, 2005


I love Wales' explanation of his self-edits:

"People shouldn't do it, including me," he said. "I wish I hadn't done it. It's in poor taste...

In poor taste? Try stupid as all get out (not to mention the equivalent of pissing all over the process that's supposed to keep Wikipedia honest). You're the main public face of Wikipedia, dude; you can't be bothered to use the Talk page to discuss a change to your own entry? Yeesh. It's amazing that someone who so clearly understands the perils of Wikipedia would set such a horrible example for handling a situation like this. Fucking amazing.
posted by mediareport at 11:55 PM on December 21, 2005


Wikipedia works for the same reason that google works: it follows the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle. Wikipedia is simple to understand and use—you can start reading and finding information with no instructions and updating takes only a bit more knowledge. Digital Universe on the other hand requires multiple pages of content just to explain what the hell it is—let alone the hurdle to actually use the darn thing. It might have it's use but it is never going to be a Wikipedia killer.
posted by headlouse at 11:10 PM on December 22, 2005


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