A couple of years ago, when dot-com millionaire Joe Firmage first floated his idea for an expert-based “Encyclopedia Galactica” that would knit together all realms of knowledge in a clickable online world, you might have wondered whether the whole idea was just a science-fiction gimmick. Then Wikipedia, the community-based online encyclopedia, blossomed on the Web. Google Earth, the search engine company’s map-based interface for global imagery, made a huge splash. Looking back, Firmage’s idea might have just been ahead of its time.
Firmage and his collaborators say the Encyclopedia Galactica vision is ready for a pilot tryout, if not for prime time. On Tuesday, they officially took the wraps off their software project, now known as the Digital Universe. Will it turn out to be a nonprofit “PBS of the Web,” as Firmage and his collaborators hope? Stay tuned: Even Firmage admits it might take years for the idea to catch on.