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by Jay Fienberg

PlaNetwork conference, ManyOne's Joe Firmage

posted: Jun 8, 2003 12:56:28 PM

Blogging the PlaNetwork conference in San Francisco.

Joe Firmage is speaking. He was a founder of US Web and ManyOne is the sponsor of this conference.

Talking about Carl Sagan's vision of encyclopedia galactica (which comes from Issac Asimov), which Joe came across as a young man. Realizing that it might be possible to do this now. Would require something like a "web 2.0".

Talking about technology developments being stovepipes into their own category, like an online education system not being integrated with an online organization system. He considered creating a platform for integration.

In his previous job, Joe saw all kinds of proposals of what people wanted to do with the web. He came up with six un-met needs of the web:

1) resuable portal infrastructure based upon open source standards. 2) rich-media content experiences regardless of bandwidth. 3) simpler and more powerful navigation of the Internet. 4) medium in which quality of information can be ascertained. 5) isolation of commercialism. 6) a viable financial model for both large- and small-audience portals.

Talking about a business model in which a portal with AOL class functionality could be profitable with as few as 1,000 users. Could democratize the creation of these portals.

Coming transformation of electronic media: moving from page and links to spaces and objects. From browser to consoles. From 2d to 3d. Talking about Hollywood having solved the rich media problem, just not on the web yet.

They have created a new kind of caching system, based on Mozilla (and put back into Open Source), that allows X-Box level graphics over 28k connections.

Imagine a 3d online mirror of reality built by thousands of collaboration organizations, as the underlying canvas of the Internet, accessible through every browser, TV and PDA.

He is now going to show the ManyOne beta software. This is available for download from

Showing a user customizable home page. It is graphical image of earth land masses. It has floating palette menus and a key ring menu. Palettes have features like IM (they have an IM palette coming up soon, based on Jabber).

They are going to add things like the top 500 newspapers. Other views like environmental issues. Now going to show how this works to browse the web.

Favorites are a kind of 3d panel of portals. As you move your mouse over a portal, children portals hover above, etc. They have 400,000 portals mapped. People are applauding. (This is definitely a thing to check out).

They have created a taxonomy designed to mirror nature. Major branch points in the tree of the universe, is how they have thought of it.

He can imagine avatars with teachers taking students through the portals. When you click on a portal, you zoom in to an arbitrarily rich media environment. Palette menus give you a set of links of to great resources, which are ordinary web pages.

At the top right corner, are activity modes: these the verbs (the portals are nouns). He is in educational mode, but can switch to inform mode for headlines. Trade mode: posts goods and services for auction or barter. Communicate mode: chat with other people.

On left hand side, is a persistent icon navigation system. Always shows you what part of the neighborhood you are in. Can scroll left to right to navigate up or down the tree. No clicks, it follows your cursor.

The 2d images shown now are just placeholders while they are developing the system. He is going to show the first 3d portal, which is a solar system portal. In education mode, he sees information resources. In inform mode, he sees headlines about the solar system, etc.

With keyboard and mouse control, he can navigate through this solar system environment, which is derived from NASA images and data. He can click on Saturn, etc.

Activity modes: play could let kids build a virtual space station. People could build a new virtual solar system. Time frame for then interconnecting 3d domains is a couple years. These domains can be run by different organizations, people who are experts in their domains.

Business model of ManyOne: how content gets developed. Operating and financial model, and developer's kit in which they hand-over editorial right to steward domains. They are creating coalitions with organizations. They have an extranet and hand over access to these organizations.

With the activity modes, once they are developed, every portal inherits them. So, chat works for soccer portal and for environmental portals.

Financial model is: any socially responsible organization may take this browser, and complete private label it and customize it, for no up-front cost. For example, a Sierra Club could make a forest portal. The stewardship process is by invitation only (will talk more about that later).

Business model: the have private labeled themselves with companies like Quest and UUNet, for $21.95 per user, to create an alternative to AOL. The discover mode is free to everyone. But, subscribers get email and other services. Still figuring out whether chat will be free or in subscription.

50% of gross margin goes to partner who secures the member. So, a Sierra Club who gets its members to switch to this from AOL would get $3-4/month/user. Reintermediating the portal business. Civil society partners get to make this money from their marketing efforts rather than it going to big media corporations.

Any socially responsible organization can become partners. Earth Charter is basis.

Their browser will be dropped back into open source in 2004. They have built new caching system, called the media manager, as part of Mozilla. Media environments can be intelligently cached, even prior to you using them. The cache is built-in to the browser itself. It is implicitly set by your selection of favorites. Your favorites are like subscriptions to cache content.

For example, if NASA builds a new space station, they can trickle it out to subscribers a week early, and on the day of the press release, everyone can navigate it.

They support a number of rendering engines so far: Flash, Shockwave, X3D, anything that will play through Mozilla. Also the GeoNavigator which has been shown here at the conference.

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April 30, 2003

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