Project directors have high expectations for the venture, which they hope will become the most recognized brand for learning on the Web.
"We will become the premier knowledge portal on the Internet," Rupp said.
The site will feature "knowledge creators" –- curators, researchers, and professors who carry expertise from "world-renowned institutions that carry instant credibility," Kirschner said.
A select council of academic peers will authenticate all original content on the site to make sure it meets academic and editorial integrity standards.
"The attitude they are taking transcends education online," said Gene DeRose, chairman of Jupiter Communications. "I've never seen anything like it."
By partnering with several top institutions, project directors hope to garner enough high-quality content to serve as a portal, a task unlikely to be accomplished by any single institution.
"No single university is going to make the commitment to marketing resources that we are," Kirschner said. "We're not creating courses. We're a marketplace for courses."
By not dictating course content or tuition fees, Fathom will allow universities to retain control of their intellectual property.
"We have structured the project in a way that we have control over how our identity is projected," Columbia's Rupp said.
But Fathom will face challenges in driving participation and forging alliances to make their model succeed online.
"It remains to be seen what the revenue model will be for the entire content category," DeRose said.
Fathom also will have to find ways to replicate the university experience while maintaining high quality content.
"This isn't about putting up stale content," DeRose said. "You don't want to replicate the musty halls of libraries online."