No fair! But Doernberg's working on it

An old clich̩ says life isn't fair. Dan Doernberg is no expert, but he has made the issue of fairnessРfrom family squabbles to corporate injustice and international politicsРhis life's work.

And his website asks plenty of questions:

* Should we invade Iraq?

* How long should copyrights last?

* Are chaplain salaries ripping off atheists?

"I had a very deep feeling that there should be a reference book that a person like me could go to and not be at the mercy of better-informed, more experienced adversaries," says Doernberg, 44. "I wanted to level the playing field."

And thus began his website, fairness.com, whose motto is "Life isn't fair... but we're working on it."

In addition to launching fairness questions taken from the day's headlines, the site provides links, forums, and resources for anyone with a question. Like an online legal aid society, the site relies upon a community of contributors to provide content on a pro bono basis.

Doernberg made e-commerce history by launching an online version of his Computer Literacy Bookshops in 1991, a full three years before Amazon.com appeared. Still, he remains reluctant to spring too boldly or to be touted as a guru of fairness. "My mission," he says, "is to keep myself and my opinions far in the background."

In 1994, Doernberg relocated from California's Silicon Valley to Charlottesville to raise his growing family. By the late 1990s, Doernberg sold off his bookstore chain and devoted himself to writing his long-delayed book on fairness. But after years of research, he concluded the subject was too vast for a single volume.

"I realized that rather than writing a book, I needed to create a website where experts could contribute their knowledge for the common good," says Doernberg. "I really believe that if I build it well, they will come."

Since its debut earlier this year, "they" include an impressive list of advisors, including UVA professor of government and foreign affairs George Klosto, and John Levine, a Yale-educated computer consultant and author of the best-selling Internet for Dummies.

This summer, the site graduated its first "virtual interns." UVA students and identical twins Emily and Sarah Beck field-tested the program from their apartment. Based on the success of the trial, Fairness.com launched a national internship program last month and has accepted its first college credit-earning student.

Later this year, Doernberg expects to announce the site's official debut. "I'm convinced that there's an important place in the world for a non-commercial site with very high integrity devoted to helping people."