Shawn Bose and Justin Halloran studied religion as college undergrads, but it was their experience helping create 21st-century digital retailers such as eBay and UShip that brought them back to the topic of faith.
Being part of broad sites that customers perceive as less manipulated and closer to the ground level, the 30-somethings thought they could transfer the idea to religion — create a huge site populated not by news, commentary or pop culture but by “primary source” material – sacred texts, unedited sermons, religious music and civil discussion about them. The items would be put there mostly by participants, who would pay nothing, ideally making the site like a Wikipedia for religion. Last month, the pair launched Deily.org with hundreds of thousands of pieces of content, and this week The Post spoke with Bose about this merger of online retail and religion.
MB: How do you decide what constitutes “primary” content? In other words, what’s pop culture and what isn’t? What’s news and what isn’t?
SB: In our experience, we’ve built marketplaces like UShip. It’s a community-managed marketplace. We have no agenda of our own; there’s no invisible hand. We just say the content has to be about religion, not intolerant, not hateful, and we allow for the community to flag anything that’s inappropriate.
MB: But couldn’t much in religious texts be considered inappropriate to someone?
SB: We’re building up a big advisory board to help us with this.
MB: What motivated this?
SB: For many people, their religious experience has become passive. They go to church, temple, synagogue, listen to a sermon, digest and leave. It’s one-way. We wanted to let people engage with content. How can a community come together to explain things to one another? This way they can deepen their faith or understanding. . . . In the wake of everything that’s happened in the past couple of weeks [including the attacks in Paris], we said: What is people’s understanding of religion? For most people, it’s what they’ve been told or the news they get. There’s not a lot of self-discovery going on.
We know the best thing the Internet does is it lets more information get to more people. If we can share traditions, we feel that goes a long way to impacting people in a positive way
MB: What’s on the site now?
SB: We started with texts. And we have 100,000 videos, podcasts and documentaries. Right now, it’s 50 percent Christian content, and the rest is dispersed, but that will change.
MB: What’s the Wikipedia part?
SB: Anyone can come on for free and can then comment on texts, offer an explanation, rebut someone else’s explanation. Pastors can create a page and post a sermon, and congregants can ask questions, comment.
MB: How does the site make money?
SB: We had well over seven figures of investment from initial investors, including the co-founders of C3 Presents, which produces Austin City Limits Music Festival; former Borders Books CEO Tom Borders and the CEO of HomeAway, Brian Sharples. (The site, Bose said, also expects to generate revenue through user donations and by taking a fee when visitors donate to a faith organization through the site.)
MB: I know you’ve only been up a few weeks, but what content are people most engaged with?
SB: Here are four of the most popular:
Psalms 23, which begins: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
Exodus 20, which includes the admonition “thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
The Lord’s Prayer, which includes, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”
And the longest chapter of the Quran, called the Sura al-Baqara