same instant democracy and ubiquitous presence that made even
the Luddites create a Web site has led to a cacophony of pages
that outnumber the population of the United States, and despite
the yearly Parousia of the new and improved search engine, there
is still no guarantee that the sites you find are relevant to
your search, much less reliable sources of information.
why not trust the same names on the Internet that you trust
in the brick-and-mortar world? That's what they want you to
ask at fathom.com. A new Web site formed by a number of leading
academic and cultural institutions-including the University
of Chicago-it hopes to become the premier site for interactive
knowledge and education on the Web.
endeavor seeks to create what Fathom President and CEO Anne
Kirschner calls "a vibrant 'main street' for knowledge and education.
We intend to go beyond the current limits of information sites
scattered across the Web and also go beyond on-line initiatives
from individual schools."
by Columbia University in 1999, Fathom's six original members
included Columbia, the London School of Economics and Political
Science, Cambridge University Press, the British Library, the
New York Public Library, and the Smithsonian Institution's National
Museum of Natural History. This summer, four new institutions
joined the venture: the U of C, the Woods Hole Oceanographic
Institution, American Film Institute, and RAND, a not-for-profit
institution devoted to improving policy and decision-making
through research and analysis.
being provided by these recent additions include the first-ever
chemical analysis of Martian rocks (the University of Chicago),
images of the wreck of the Titanic (Woods Hole), master seminars
by cinema legends on the filmmaking process (American Film Institute),
and ground-breaking reports on education reform (RAND).
relationship between Fathom and the U of C is in its infancy,
with plans to be made over the coming months to more precisely
determine the University's role. "The University of Chicago
has, since its founding, understood its obligation to make the
discoveries of its faculty available beyond the academic world,"
says Robert Zimmer, the Max Mason distinguished service professor
in mathematics and deputy provost, who has been helping coordinate
the University's involvement in the project. "We are partnering
with Fathom because we believe it will help our faculty to share
their work efficiently with sophisticated audiences wherever
they may be."
will work with members of partner institutions to develop original
content on a range of subjects to include business, law, economics,
social sciences, medicine, computer science and technology,
the arts, journalism, and physics. The content on the site will
be authenticated, meaning that the knowledge will be attributed
to the appropriate academic or cultural institution and its
faculty or research staff.
Fathom Academic Council-an advisory board comprised of scholars
selected from Fathom's members, including Chicago-will oversee
the development of content and will be responsible for monitoring
academic and editorial integrity. The council is currently headed
by Columbia University Provost Jonathan Cole.
complement its free content, Fathom also plans to offer knowledge-based
e-commerce. Products will range from textbooks and CD-ROMs to
journals and educational travel opportunities, as well as a
comprehensive directory of related on-line courses. Users may
enroll in on-line courses through Fathom, with tuition fees,
accreditation, and admission policies set by the offering university
or cultural institution.
the venture's for-profit status, Zimmer sees the University's
role as faculty-driven. "We will be putting Fathom in touch
with faculty who are interested in having research or educational
materials disseminated through them.
will be potentially looking at various sorts of seminars, presentations,
special collections in the library, conferences, and workshops.
We're looking at this as offering an opportunity for faculty
to have a vehicle for more widespread Web-based dissemination,
for things they feel are of value to disseminate." According
to Zimmer, the University will retain the intellectual property
rights to any content it puts on the site. Fathom is expected
to officially launch by the end of the year at www.fathom.com.--C.S.