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A new way to fathom the Internet

image: Campus News In the Internet's short lifetime-chronologically it is still a pre-teen-it has already defined itself in an inescapable dual truth:

a) Practically everyone can put up a Web page.
b) Practically everyone did.

The 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.

So 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 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.

The 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."

Initiated 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.

Content 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).

The 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."

Fathom 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.

The 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.

To 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.

Despite 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.

Fathom 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

  OCTOBER 2000
  > > Volume 93, Number 1

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Déjà views
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Women in white
  > >
Gay studies at Chicago
  > > Reclamation project

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  > > Deaths

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  > > Letters



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