Monday, July 9, 2007

Cliff Lyon of Digital Universe Answers Your Questions

Our thanks to Cliff Lyon of Digital Universe for taking the time to answer the many questions that stemmed from Joe Firmage's presentation at the Generation Tech Event hosted by the Santiago Library System on May 2, 2007.

Is DU intended as an information tool, a social network or both? Who is the target audience?

The Digital Universe (DU) is a series of expertly-stewarded, commercial-free informational portals each having its own surrounding social network or MySpace if you will, except that instead of building a page, anyone can build entire portals using a professional-level Web 2.0 content management system. This will be called ManyOne.

The target audience for the ManyOne portals platform are people and organizations who want to build their own personal and community portals in a self-organizing Internet ecosystem based upon meritocratic principles, quality, and integrity.

The first institutional users of ManyOne are building a new network of advertising-free, quality-content-oriented Web portals called the “Digital Universe”. It is designed to revolutionize online education, entertainment and community, and can be thought of as the “PBS of the Internet” with ManyOne providing the technical systems and financial model sustaining it. Portals built by this alliance will ultimately span tens of thousands of topics of human interest, from space to earth to human health, from culture to music to sports. It will offer users across all demographics a next-generation, more compelling successor to the “Web directories” that became popular during the early days of the World Wide Web.

With so much information available to searchers, how will you keep them from getting frustrated and giving up?

Today, searching the web is like searching the index in the back of a book. We are creating a platform to allow the world to convert the knowledge and information part of the web into a table of contents.

How do we have access on a regular basis without having a page? Is there a fee or membership cost?

ManyOne and the Digital Universe will always be free.

If one is doing research using portals, how are your resources documented? How does one know that your experts are, in fact, scholarly, etc? And is copyright ever and issue?

Every piece of content and information in the DU is fully documented to the highest of academic standards. Stewarded articles will also include not only direct links to the authors’ bios’, but also the editor and their bio. (Example)

So many presentations have urged librarians to embrace the “dumbing down” of information portals and embrace social portals that are opinion-based, not factual. Can a DU product stand a chance in such and environment?

The DU/ManyOne platform makes a clear distinction between stewarded/edited information and opinion-based information. This transparency allows for the healthy exchange to emerge between the expert and the lay community in which pedigree is valued appropriately, while the lay community can establish credentials based upon transparent quantifiable factors as well as expert peer review.

A laypersons portal make be invited to join a stewarded portal (or submit it for consideration) if the editors deem it good enough and if its author is willing to abide by their policies.

Who oversees the “stewards” to insure that a particular political agenda is not promoted?

There will be federated layers of boards above each portal up to the DU board consisting of the most widely respected people we active in civil society today. Within this system is a Board of Arbitration, a judicial branch if you will. We call these “high-class” problems meaning, when they start to surface, we’ll know we’ve arrived and become really relevant in a particular field. Keep in mind; the Internet is not limited to column inches. If one portal starts to diverge too far down one path, another forms to fill that void and provide counter balance.

How do you keep bias out of the content & stewardship?

Of course the over-riding purpose of the ManyOne/Digital Universe Foundations is to eliminate the influence of commercialism, corporate influence, advertiser pressure etc over the information we receive. That’s 90% of bias. Beyond that, each subject area will still be exposed to different kinds of pressure. Full disclosure, transparency, and lively participation by a knowledgeable peer community will provide strong balance.

Will DU also cover pop culture? How will those moderators be selected?

Great question: This is a place where the lines between the stewarded portals and the community portals are likely to blur. The platform is designed for this. It is after all, a meritocracy. If “the people” produce a better set of destinations for pop-culture, then so be it. May the cream rise to the top!

How does this compare to GOOGLE & LII? Are stewards creating the content (i.e. reinventing info already available?) or searching for content (i.e. LII)? And please tell me I can do a text search and bypass pressing 10+ icons to get where I want.

LII is a gift from heaven. The only solution to the overwhelming problem of for-profit search engines is non-profit, human powered editorial review of existing websites. LII is a great start.
A partnership seems inevitable.

The DU is the result of thinking through the primary challenges that LII faces; funding and editorial manpower. In short, we’ve created a platform where experts in a subject form an editorial board to among other things, perform the same tasks as LII editors; identify great websites and establish subtopics and spurn new editorial boards for those.

But then, we also give them amazing web 2.0 tools to create their own portals to add news feeds, fresh content, rich media, forums etc and a MySpace-like platform to attract a passionate social community of individuals and organizations around that subject portal. This generates revenue the same way MySpace does.

Each portal coalition is also a subsidiary of a 501c3 so they can apply for grants as well.

Of course users will be able to perform all manner of searches like LII, but the navigation system will be clickless.

(Similar Topic: Searching) If you want to go to a specific topic, can you just type it in and get there without going through multiple portals? Are there searching shortcuts in the DU? ManyOne navigator is beautiful, but how do I get a kid to go through all those points to get to poetry? Where’s the search box? Will DU include keyword searching?

Of course users will be able to perform all manner of searches and save favorites in highly organized fashion. In fact, user will be able to build their own taxonomies using self-created and existing portals and taxonomies.

How can you be confident that you’ll be able to maintain funding? Even good people have problems when they get large amounts of power and influence.

The ManyOne revenue model is quite robust. It includes banner advertising on free user created portals, subscription services, advertising opt-out, web hosting, affinity partner programs, and of course, as a non-profit foundation, is a wonderful candidate for all kinds of public and private funding.

The Diamond Shield structure is specifically designed to protect the entire enterprise from Wall Street and the influence of Corporations. We also believe that the kind of people who will control the foundation have well established themselves to be above the temptations of power and influence.

Will the ManyOne website have a place for comments of links to other authorities?

I assume you by “ManyOne website”, manyone/Digital Universe Portals. The answer is probably yes, but ultimately those decisions are made by the stewards/editors. I can’t imagine a good information resource wouldn’t include links to the best resources on that subject.

Please explain again how the DU will be able to have its information available without advertising?

Advertising on the surrounding personal and community portals, subscription services, and grants will generate revenue to support Digital Universe stewarded advertising-free portals.

Cliff Lyon also included a rather extensive executive summary for ManyOne Networks which I would be more than happy to forward to you at your request. Please contact me at:

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