Digital Universe: Wikis


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Digital Universe
Digital Universe logo.png
Commercial? yes
Type of site Internet portal
Registration Optional
Available language(s) English
Owner Digital Universe Foundation

Digital Universe is a project to create a "new network of portals designed to provide high-quality information and services to the public". Subject matter experts are to be responsible for reviewing and approving content; contributors are to be both experts (researchers, scholars, educators) and the public.[1]




In December 2005, when the project was announced, the founders said that they hoped to create a worldwide network of researchers, scholars, and educators, to become "the PBS of the Web."[2]

While the public will be invited to contribute to some articles in the Digital Universe encyclopedia, they will be supervised by "stewards" whose role is to guarantee quality and accuracy of the articles. In addition, parts of the Digital Universe will be editable only by credentialed experts.

Multi-tiered system

The expert wiki, is expected to be written and managed by experts. [3]

The public wiki, will be editable by members of the educated public. However, according to Sanger, only registered users who have provided their real names will be permitted to edit this wiki, unlike Wikipedia. [3] According to Sanger, an article rating system will be used for articles in the public wiki. [4]

Some of the 3-D graphical interface features will require the use of a Mozilla-based browser developed by ManyOne Networks, which they say will be made available free of charge.

Some content will be available only to ManyOne subscribers.


Around 2000 content pages existed as of August 2007. The Digital Universe claims the following featured portals: Earth, Energy, The Arctic, Texas Environment, U.S. Government, and Salton Sea. The Salton Sea portal for example contains the following pages: Hydrology, Biology, Limnology, Ecological Issues, Values, Geography, Alternatives, and Cultural History.

The Earth portal is working on an Encyclopedia of Earth (EoE), [5] which will focus on the natural environment and its interaction with society.[6] It will differ from Wikipedia by limiting editing privileges to experts, by attributing all edits to their authors, by changes being published publicly only after approval and by using an expert-developed taxonomy for articles.[6][7]

EoE will use two parallel wikis, one "Stewarded", one "Public". The Stewarded wiki will be open only to "recognized scientific authorities" after their credentials have been reviewed.[8] Like Wikipedia, the EoE runs Mediawiki wiki software.[9] EoE is to use the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 for its license.[7] Over 400 articles had been written by experts by January 2006.[10]

In May 2006 it was reported that the EoE was due to be launched in June 2006.[11] A July 2006 article reported that the launch would be in fall 2006.[12]

As of May 2007, the EoE's International Advisory Board included Robert Costanza, Thomas Homer-Dixon, Rajendra K. Pachauri and Frank Sherwood Rowland.[13]


Principals of the Digital Universe project include Joe Firmage, USWeb founder; astrophysicist Bernard Haisch, president of the Digital Universe Foundation, and Larry Sanger. On 14 March, 2006, the Digital Universe Foundation announced that Lawrence Lessig, Founder and Chairman of the Creative Commons Project, had joined the Digital Universe advisory board. [14]

In September 2006, Sanger announced that he had taken a "leave of absence" from Digital Universe "in order to set up a fully independent Citizendium Foundation".[15]


In July 2006, the San Jose Mercury News reported that "Digital Universe, a non-profit based in Scotts Valley, is part of a complicated three-organization structure. ManyOne Networks is the for-profit arm of the operation, backed with angel investors and private investor funding that is developing the Digital Universe software. Its profits are funneled to the ManyOne Foundation, set up in Canada for tax purposes and to give the project a less U.S.-centric feel. Eventually, the foundation will acquire ManyOne Networks by buying out the investors at a fixed rate of return, Haisch said. The Digital Universe Foundation controls the content that is published online. It will issue grants to academics and researchers to produce work for the Web site. The plan is to create a self-sustainable organization through a mix of grants and revenue from premium services, such as high-resolution images and video and e-mail, with prices ranging from $7.95 to $49.95."[12]

As of January 2006, US$10.5 million had been raised from investors and foundations for the Digital Universe project. [16] ManyOne Networks plans to offer premium services for $7.95 a month and to sell Internet access. [16] These revenues will be used in part to support the Digital Universe project. Firmage has stated that access to the basic Digital Universe content will always remain free and without advertisements.[17]

The stewardship program and other Digital Universe activities are the responsibility of the non-profit Digital Universe Foundation, headquartered in Scotts Valley, California.


In January 2006, the pilot version of Digital Universe was launched. This contained approximately 50 portals.[17] Some visitors felt this version was confusing and difficult to navigate. [16][18]

See also


  1. ^ "Digital Universe Launches Experts Recruitment Program", Digital Universe Foundation press release, May 15, 2006, accessed May 16, 2007
  2. ^ Daniel Terdiman, "Wikipedia alternative aims to be 'PBS of the Web'", CNET, December 19, 2005
  3. ^ a b Larry Sanger, "The Digital Universe in 2006", Digital Universe Blog, January 20, 2006, accessed May 16, 2007
  4. ^ Larry Sanger, "Correcting Some Misconceptions about the Digital Universe", Digital Universe Blog, January 19, 2006, accessed May 16, 2007
  5. ^ Larry Sanger (January 1, 2006). "Earth Portal" (PDF). Retrieved 2006-09-21.  
  6. ^ a b Cutler Cleveland (Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopedia of Earth), "More on the Wikipedia Alternative", CNET, reader posting, January 9, 2006
  7. ^ a b Frequently Asked Questions", Earth Portal (dead link as of May 16, 2007; not available via
  8. ^ The Encyclopedia of Earth -- A Prospectus, accessed May 16, 2007
  9. ^ Larry Sanger, posting in response to "Digital Universe and long odds" by Alex Halavais, 2 February 2006
  10. ^ Art Jahnke, "World's experts gather online BU cultivates a corner of the Digital Universe", Boston University (BU) Today, January 26, 2006
  11. ^ Laura Smith, "Digital Universe gets UK uni stars", Information World Review News, 9 May 2006
  12. ^ a b John Boundreau, "Digital Universe Wants to Assemble 'Information You Can Trust' About Science on its Web Site", July 24, 2006, The Mercury News, accessed July 24, 2006 (accessible via paid archive as of May 2007)
  13. ^ International Advisory Board, Earth Portal, accessed May 19, 2007
  14. ^ "Prof. Lawrence Lessig Appointment Underscores Digital Universe Commitment to Bring Together Renowned Experts Across Disciplines", March 14, 2006
  15. ^ Citizendium-l: Citizendium launch plan as of September 26, posting by Larry Sanger, September 27, 2006, to
  16. ^ a b c Leslie Walker, "A Universe of Good Intentions, A World of Practical Hurdles", Washington Post, January 19, 2006
  17. ^ a b Dan Goodin, "Website aims to build non-profit research storehouse", Associated Press, March 5, 2006
  18. ^ Mike Langberg, "Firmage's `Universe' needs tweaks", Mercury News, January 18, 2006

External links

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