Author Archives: therealmccrea

The Big Pitch to TJ and the Exec Team

[20 Years Ago, Part 10. Other options: prior post or start at the beginning.]

The big day was finally here. I’d made it down from the city ahead of the rush hour, and arrived at SGI well before the start of the exec team meeting.

I headed down to the Building 6, where the execs had their offices, and found the Board Room. Meeting me there was David Ciemiewicz, a.k.a. “Ciemo,” an engineer as passionate about the web as I was, who had in recent weeks gone from being a friend and occasional technical advisor to becoming essentially the technical co-founder for the new business we hoped to get green-lit. And this morning, he would also be handling an important, if not glamorous task — hitting Page Down to advance the slides of the Showcase presentation, so I could focus on speaking.

The Board Room was enormous and brightly lit, with a long table running most of its length. Ciemo went about getting the presentation on the Indy, while I stashed my props in the belly of the lectern at the head of the table. After a quick run-through of the deck, we exited the room and camped out in small waiting area outside.

We’d end up being there for a while, as our presentation wasn’t scheduled until after the weekly conference call with country managers. Soon, the execs started showing up for the meeting. Though almost none of them recognized me (and vice versa), most of them knew Ciemo, who had been at the company for eight years, so there were a lot of smiles, greetings, and small talk as they headed in.

I was on the lookout for one of the few execs that I actually did know, our division’s GM, Tom Furlong. You see, I hadn’t had a chance to let him know about my last-minute addition to the presentation. By the time Tom arrived, the Board Room was more than half full, as the meeting was only a few minutes away. “All set?” he asked.

“Yep,” I replied, “But I need to tell you something.”

“Shoot,” he said.

“I’m sorry I didn’t get to discuss it with you in advance,” I said. “But last night I decided to end the presentation with a request for investment.”

“How much?” he asked.

“Three million.”

“Okay,” said Tom, with a bit of a chuckle. “Good luck with that!”

He headed into the Board Room, leaving us to ponder whether he thought I was smart or crazy.

After all the execs made it in, the doors closed, and the long wait began. The country manager call took something like 30 minutes, but it felt like an eternity. Finally, the door opened, and Ciemo and I entered a room that now looked dramatically different. What had been bright, empty, and roomy, was now mostly dark and jam packed with people. The long table was full, with five execs on each side and another two on the end. And the back of the room was crowded with another dozen or so folks, including each division’s director of marketing.

Ciemo got the presentation up on the big screen, and I took my place at the lectern, which was now in the only brightly lit part of the room. A few small lights above the table provided just enough illumination for me to see the faces of the execs. Everything else, including all the folks at the back of the room, was in near total darkness.

I looked around the table, and made eye contact for the first time with the company’s President and COO, Tom “TJ” Jermoluk. He sat halfway down the left side of the table. His blond hair and relaxed confidence gave him a surfer vibe. He gave a big smile and said, “Let’s go.”

No recording was made of this presentation, and the digital copies of the Showcase file have long since been lost. All that remains, aside from memories, is one color photo that I used to illustrate one of the slides. But here’s what I remember of the pitch…

After introducing myself, I started with a slide introducing the World Wide Web, illustrated with example web pages.

“The Internet has been around for 25 years,” I said. “But recently it has entered a new phase of explosive growth. Why? Because the Web makes the Internet visual, media-rich, and interactive. And that makes it both compelling and easy and to use. In the process, it is now creating one of the fastest growing new markets for visual computing…”

I should probably point out that I did not have a script or notes, and that this was a true SGI-quality presentation, which is to say that there were no words on the slides other than titles. But my pitch flowed like water that morning 20 years ago, as I was delivering a narrative I felt deep in my bones.

“Let’s take a look at what I mean by fast growth,” I said, and Ciemo brought up the next slide, showing a graph1 that looked something like this:

Early Web Growth

“By every important measure, the World Wide Web is growing exponentially. The number of websites is now doubling every three months! And here’s why that growth will not slow any time soon…”

From there, I showed and talked about a virtuous cycle. (More people getting online, inspiring more websites to be created, leading to more compelling content, leading to more people downloading the browser and getting online, and on and on.)

“As that cycle continues,” I said, as we advanced to the next slide. “It’s giving rise to two ‘picks and shovels’ market segments, that we should not only enter, but that we should, in fact, lead. Those segments are web authoring and web serving.”

“On the authoring front, I should say that I’ve been incredibly frustrated by our experiences in the multimedia authoring market. With Macromedia unwilling to port to IRIX, we’re frozen out of the main action. But with the web authoring market, we have no such disadvantage. In fact, we can (and should) jump in, feet first, and create a visual, media-rich HTML authoring system that highlights the differentiation of our workstations. But even if we don’t do that, we don’t have to stand on the sidelines. SoftQuad, a small software company in Toronto, has created the very first HTML editor and is open to a deal to port it to IRIX.” I paused, reached down into the belly of the lectern, and pulled out my first prop, a shrink-wrapped box of software. “It’s called HoTMetaL Pro, and it’s currently available for Solaris2.”

“Can I see that?” asked TJ.

Attention quickly shifted, first to TJ, then back to the box in my hands. I leaned forward and handed it to the exec seated closest to me on the left. It was quickly passed along to TJ. The room was silent as he slowly examined all sides of the box. “Why don’t we make something like this?” he asked, looking around the table, and then handing the box not back toward me, but to the exec to his left. For the next couple minutes, each VP repeated the little ritual of accepting the box, examining it carefully, then handing it to the guy to his left.

As the box made its way around the room, I returned to my pitch, shifting over to the web server market. Here, I would have emphasized the central role of Netscape (the company having just renamed itself the prior week), and the incredible good fortune of having our recently departed founder, Jim Clark, at the helm there; and them using Indys as their development environment and as the server hosting the downloads of the browser. It was a hot new server market being born on our platform; we just needed to license their server software and bundle it.

I laid out my proposal, at high level, to enter these two market segments with a new product line, comprised of workstations and servers, bundled with all the right tools for kick-ass, media-rich web authoring and serving. To make it more tangible, I teed up a product line slide by saying, “Introducing Spider from Silicon Graphics.” The slide made it look like the product line already existed and was already supported by print advertising. And then I reached into the lectern to get my second prop, the black plastic Indy shell. Holding it up, I said, “And the entire product line will come in black.”

I paused, hoping TJ would chime in, but instead, someone from the other side of the table piped up. (I would later find out that it was the company’s VP of Manufacturing.) He said, “I have to draw the line there. We don’t want that kind of inventory headache.”

TJ added, “Agreed.”

“Okay, not a problem,” I said, as I quickly disappeared my prop. “A different color shell is not a critical success factor.”

My pitch would go on to show how we were already had a warm welcome from the market, with prominent sites already “Powered by Silicon Graphics,” including HotWired and the Internet Underground Music Archive (IUMA)3.

“The web is bringing Silicon Graphics to a whole new set of customers.” I said, as we hit our second-to-last slide. “And these first-time buyers are blown away by our products. For example, the team at Sound Print Media Center were so happy with their purchase of an Indy for web authoring and serving that they mailed us this photo!”

SoundPrintIndy

And then came the final slide, entitled “To Become The Market Leader”. This was the one I added the prior evening, and did not look like any other slide in the deck. Instead of one main image and no words, it was really just a spreadsheet with pretty small font. It detailed what I thought we should spend money on to create and launch the product line — and how much incremental revenue I projected we would deliver in the first two quarters.

I wasn’t sure what detail to go into in my pitch, but at some point TJ stopped me, having absorbed the level of detail he wanted.

“Okay,” he said. “Let me get this straight. If I give you two to three million dollars, you’ll get us into the market in January and take up your outlook for the next two quarters by 15 million?”

All eyes were now on me. It was pretty clear that the right answer was “Yes.” But a few things prevented me from speaking. First, I had never been in a conversation about quarterly “outlooks”. Second, since I didn’t personally have one hanging over my head, I wasn’t sure what it would mean for me to modify one over someone else’s head.

With the extended silence starting to get awkward, my boss, Jim White, stepped forward from the darkness of the back of the room into the dim light near the table’s end. “That’s right,” he said.

TJ turned in his chair, and all eyes followed.

“We will take up our outlook for Q3 and Q4,” said Jim.

TJ nodded and turned his chair and gaze back to me. Then he said the best five word sentence of my career, “Make it so, Number One.”

After a moment, he said, “Okay, let’s take a 10 minute break.”

Someone turned on the lights. Ciemo and I shook hands. Jim White came up close to me, put his hand on my shoulder, and whispered into my ear, “Your top priority now is hiring.”

To be continued…


1DBased on data from an M.I.T./Matthew Gray report, “Measuring the Growth of the Web, June 1993 to June 1995

2The flavor of Unix of our arch enemy, Sun Microsystems

3Our second website sponsorship deal. This one only cost us one Indy, I believe, and was done out of Corporate Marketing’s budget.

 

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Finalizing the Most Important Presentation of My Career

[20 Years Ago, Part 9. Other options: prior post or start at the beginning.]

It could be said, as I prepared for my big exec team presentation, that I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into. You see, I was pretty green – in more ways than one. I’d been at SGI less than a year, and aside from a summer internship at Tandem, this was my first job in Silicon Valley, my first job in tech. Heck, it was even my first job in the for-profit sector! And unlike all the other product manager types at SGI, I did not have an engineering background, so I was essentially learning Computer Science on the job. Oh, and although I was 32 at the time, I looked way younger.

And now I was stepping forward, asking to be put in charge of an effort to launch the company into the web authoring and web serving markets with a whole new product line that would span multiple divisions.

The people I was about to present to, on the other hand, were leaders of the hottest company in Silicon Valley, and they were all incredibly technical, with real depth in domains like 3D graphics, chip design, systems architecture, networking, and so on. In attendance would be the GMs of four hardware divisions and two software divisions, a VP of manufacturing, as well as other execs (finance, legal, and marketing, I think). Running the meeting would be Tom “TJ” Jermoluk, the hotshot technical leader who had rocketed up from engineer to President and COO in less than eight years.

In other words, I probably should have been more than a little nervous. (And it might have been a good idea to do some homework on my audience.) Instead, I stayed calm, cool, and keenly focused on building up an SGI-quality presentation.

Fortunately, my colleagues on the Indy marketing team had my back.

For example, on Monday, two days before my presentation, Sanford Russell, who had done the Hotwired site sponsorship deal that planted our flag in the web market, asked me, “Have you ever presented to TJ before?” I didn’t realize it at the time, but in hindsight, he surely already knew the answer.

“No,” I said. “Honestly, I haven’t even met him yet.”

“Hmmm,” he replied. “Would you like a tip?”

I nodded.

“TJ is very tactile,” he said. “You may want to bring a prop or two to make your pitch more tangible.”

I thanked him and ran off to look at my draft presentation through a whole new lens.

How to enhance it with “props”? The first thing that came to mind was the part of the presentation on the web authoring market opportunity. In that, I had planned to make an impassioned plea for creating an SGI-quality, drag-and-drop, WYSIWYG HTML editor, and to only make brief mention of “Plan B” (just getting SoftQuad to port HoTMetaL Pro). Suddenly, I recalled the shrink-wrapped box of HoTMetaL Pro that I brought back from Chicago. I had my first prop. (Photo below is pretty much what it looked like, although this is actually version 2.0 and for the Mac.)

HoTMetaL Pro

To find a second prop, I pondered how I could make more tangible the new product line I was proposing to create. And so I headed over to Manufacturing. On foot. (Yes, we were not manufacturing in China.) I walked across the driveway of our office park in Mountain View (the same one that today is headquarters for LinkedIn), and entered Building 1, where our workstations were assembled and packed for shipping.

Within minutes something caught my eye. Indy had a very distinctive bright turquoise shell. But sitting on a shelf a bit to the side of the assembly line was something that looked just like an Indy shell, but it was pitch black. I asked what it was for and was told that it was for the Indys sent to Tandem via our OEM partnership.

Spider

(BTW, the one that my friends in Manufacturing lent me did not have a Tandem badge on it; it was just the shell, not the whole system in the picture above.)

Now, I had two props, but I also had a new puzzle. To make the proposed product line truly tangible, I’d need something more that a distinctive black shell. Suddenly it was clear that I was missing something vitally important to the pitch – a name for the product line!

As any of you who have ever named a product or company can attest, coming up with a great name can take days, weeks, or even months. I had less that 48 hours. Fortunately, the pitch black shell yielded some inspiration. If this were to be the first product line for the builders of the web, and it were to be all black, then it should be called, “Spider1”. And the name gave rise to a tagline, “For some, making a Web comes naturally.” (Okay, kinda hokey and a bit tortured in hindsight, but certainly good enough for creating a slide that would make this product line truly tangible!) And based on this image I found in my notebook, it looks like I may have ended up creating a mock print ad as the primary image for one of the slides in the deck:

Spider Ad Mock

By Tuesday evening, I was ready. My presentation was done, and I had my props. My plan was for a quick dinner, a few hours of rehearsing, then heading home at a decent hour for a good night of sleep. My presentation was at 9:00am.

I was in a great mood as I headed down to Café Iris with Sanford Russell and another deeply experienced member of the Indy Marketing team, Peter Hubbard. Peter had taught me a lot about how the workstation business works. Originally from the U.K., he had a quick wit and the remnants of a British accent. As we ate our free dinner (a now-common perk that SGI helped to pioneer), Peter asked me if I was “all ready” for my big presentation. Indeed, I was, I assured him. Then he asked with a smile, “So, how much are you asking for?”

“Um,” I said, a word that I rarely use. “I’m not actually asking for anything. Tom asked me to not go hat in hand.”

Sanford, as if on cue, jumped in. “So, let me get this straight. You’re going to take 20 or 30 minutes on the agenda of the COO and exec team to get them excited about the company’s biggest market opportunity, and then you’re not going to ask for any investment?”

Without missing a beat, Peter added, “Sounds like you’re wasting their time.”

Suddenly, I wasn’t hungry any more. This evening would no longer be about rehearsing and going to bed early. Now, I had one more slide to create: the business case for a multi-million dollar investment request.

To be continued


1For those who know how the story unfolds, this interim name is no doubt a surprise.

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Making an “SGI-Quality” Presentation

[20 Years Ago, Part 8. Other options: prior post or start at the beginning.]

It was Friday evening, and my big break was now just five days away. By Wednesday morning, I needed to be ready to present my Big Idea in front of the company’s COO, Tom “TJ” Jermoluk, and the exec staff. And I didn’t have even a first draft of a presentation!

Oh, and did I mention that it was 1994; I didn’t have access to PowerPoint; and there were only a few thousand websites total (so not a lot digital images available online)?

Fortunately, my boss, Jim White, was a master of creating SGI-quality presentations, and he had recently shared his secrets with me. While the specific tactics will strike the modern reader as charmingly antiquated, the strategy behind them is as relevant today and remains at the core of my communications toolkit.

Before I share the system with you, I should explain that by “SGI-quality presentation” we would have meant a digital slide deck as boldly visual and differentiated as our smoking hot, colorful, media-monster 3D workstations.

Indy 3DOnward…

Start with a Stack of Blank Paper

Don’t think about what will go on your title slide or the headline of slide number one. In fact, don’t worry at all about sequence when you’re just getting started. Instead, just focus on the key concepts that you need to convey in order to get your audience to believe what you want them to believe. Write each concept on its own sheet of paper.

Spread the Sheets Out

Now, it’s time to think about order. Use a long table or an open area of floor space to layout the sheets of paper. Start re-arranging them and keep at it until you have an end-to-end flow that feels right.

Find High-Impact Images

Once you know your narrative arc, it’s time to find an awesome image to illustrate each key concept. This image will fill most, if not all, of the slide. In fact, each slide will be nothing more than a big image, a one-line headline, and, perhaps, a sub-head or caption; no bullets. This was truly a “visual computing” approach to making a slide deck.

Today, it’s trivially easy to find great images online, but back in 1994, we needed other tricks up our sleeve, such as…

Bring Out Your Box of Magazines

Yes, a box filled with National Geographics, Times, Newsweeks, and so on. Once you know your storyline, just start flipping through your stash of magazines. Keep an eye out for high-impact images that make you smile or laugh. When you find one, see if you can logically tie it to any of your key concepts. If so, yank out the page and set it aside.

Here’s an example image (from National Geographic) that I ended up using a few months later, but I’ll tell you more about that when the time is right:

Chimp Ballet

Head to the Scanner

With your stack of eye-popping, emotionally-charged photos, head on over to the scanner and turn them into digital files. If I recall correctly, this took a while and was kind of a pain. I think the files ended up on a network drive, and we had to use Unix commands to find and move the files over to our own workstations. Nonetheless, the process worked, providing high-quality color images that looked great even when projected on a large screen.

Now, You’re Ready for “Showcase”

Although PowerPoint had been around since the late ’80′s, we did not have access to it for two reasons. First, it ran only on PCs and Macs, not Unix systems. Second, SGI had gotten rid of all PCs an Macs; the company ran its entire business only on SGI hardware. And so, if you were going to make and SGI-quality presentation, you were going to make it with our very own, SGI-made presentation tool, “Showcase”.

Showcase and Desktop

Showcase was a very powerful tool, with better media and graphics features than PowerPoint at the time. You could compose slides by dragging-and-dropping images, audio, and video. It even allowed for creation and editing of 3D objects, scenes, and text. (Not too surprising, since it was built to literally “showcase” the differentiation of our 3D workstations.) Here’s the “3D Gizmo” UI with, among other features, material and texture palettes:

3Dgizmo

I have to say, these old screenshots still look pretty damn good!

But for all of Showcase’s strengths, it was also more than a little bit buggy, and prone to freezing or crashing in the middle of editing. Frequent saving was a critical part of any successful project. For all of these reasons, marketers at SGI often lovingly referred to this vital tool as “Slowcase”.

So, that’s how SGI-quality presentations got made 20 years ago — and a taste of what I was in for over the weekend and into the early part of the coming week.

To be continued

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20 Years Ago: The Early Web Product Line that Almost Wasn’t

[20 Years Ago, Part 7. Other options: prior post or start at the beginning.]

It was the month of November 1994, and my mission was clear: create and launch the first hardware + software web product line, putting Silicon Graphics (SGI) into the leadership position of a market about to explode. Based on what I learned in Chicago, I believed that if we launched by end of January, we had a very good chance of beating key rivals Sun and Apple to market with solutions for the most valuable “picks and shovels” segments: web authoring and web serving. To get there, I had a two-part plan, focused on forging internal parternships with two other divisions within the company.

The first part was to partner with NSD (Networked Systems Division), a business unit that had been formed within the last year to expand the company’s footprint beyond 3D workstations into the market for high-performance servers. If our two divisions worked together, we could create a product line with the Indy workstation as one entry point (a multimedia monster for both web authoring and web serving) and the Challenge S as the other entry point (NSD’s Indy-based entry-level offering, an ideal web server). The rest of the Challenge server line (see image below) would provide a path for massive scalability.

Challenge Series

The second part was to partner with one of our two software divisions to create an awesome, SGI-native, graphics- and media-centric, drag-and-drop, “WYSIWYG1” web authoring tool that we could bundle with our workstations.

To Author

Since it was more than a little ambitious to dream of creating such a tool in less than three months, I started with the authoring software. My first stop was Silicon Studio, a division recently formed to create authoring software for interactive content. Heading up product management there was none other than Scott Bonham, who had hired me into the company and then given me a big break by moving and an allowing me to become his backfill. Despite my clarity, conviction, and passion, nothing I said could convince him that the web should be anything other than a secondary focus for Silicon Studio. Their plate was already full, working on an authoring system for video games.

Oh, well. At least I had one other software division I could partner with, VMD (Visual Magic Division), the group responsible for SGI’s “Indigo Magic” desktop environment (see image below) and a bunch of cool software tools highlighting unique capabilities of our systems. They even had a team focused on publishing. But conversations there fared no better. My logical champion to take on the project was dismissive of HTML, seeing it as an inferior derivative of SGML2. He would happily lead an effort to build an SGML editor. I thanked him, but suggested the web was unlikely to switch to SGML, even if we built the best damn SGML authoring system in the world!

Indigo Magic

Suddenly, SoftQuad’s HotMeTaL Pro3 started to look much better to me, despite its unlovable interface. I set to work negotiating the terms of a deal to get it ported to IRIX, so that we could bundle it with the workstation part of the web product line I planned to launch in January.

And To Serve

I hoped I’d fare better with the server division. After all, the plan there required no software development, just a simple bundling of existing hardware units with third-party web server software (to be licensed from Mosaic Communications). SGI would be first to market with a “turnkey web server” for very little effort. Lenny Rosenthal, who headed up marketing for NSD, was conflicted. He saw the great potential of the market, but knew that convincing his boss, Ross Bott, the GM of the division, would not be easy. He arranged a meeting on a Thursday afternoon for us to make the case. Ross was a seasoned hardware exec, very technical, and methodical. I, on the other hand, was inexperienced, learning Computer Science on the job, and given to a passion that might be called “evangelical”. The meeting clearly did not go well, but no decision was made on the spot. The next day, however, Lenny told me that NSD would not be jumping with me into the web server market. Instead, they would stay focused on the market for high-scale database servers.

Dead in the Water

My bold plan could survive without homegrown web authoring software. But trying to make SGI the leader in the web server market without the participation of our server division? That was laughable. Our first-to-market web product line was dead in the water.

And that was simply not acceptable.

It was a Friday afternoon (likely November 11). I went to see my boss, Jim White. Readers of this series may recall that Jim had taken over the head of marketing role for the division behind Indy, DSS (Digital Sight and Sound), and immediately empowered me to focus my energy on finding new markets. I shared with him my frustration with the disastrous results of my internal partnering efforts, concluding with, “SGI is in the perfect spot to take advantage of the biggest new market in computing, and we’re going to totally blow it. We’re going to just let it slip through our fingers.”

Jim’s a pretty intense guy. Smart, confident, and passionate. He didn’t hesitate in his response, as if what to do should have been completely obvious to me. He asked, “Why don’t you just do it?”

The light bulb went off. It hadn’t occurred to me that such an option existed. But as soon as he said it, I realized that there was a pathway forward, if I could grab full leadership of a company-wide effort. “I’m in,” I said.

Minutes later, we were in the cubicle of Tom Furlong, General Manager of DSS, pitching the idea of creating a new product line by bundling software for web authoring and web serving. Tom, who embodied the epitome of the the can-do spirit of mid-’90′s Silicon Graphics, was immediately supportive, saying that he had been advocating for “solution bundles” for a while. “Let’s do it,” he said. “What do you need from me?”

“I need to be knighted,” I said.

Tom smiled, and without missing a beat, pretended to pick up a sword. “You are hereby knighted,” he said, dropping the virtual blade to my shoulder.

“That’s awesome, and I really appreciate it, but I think this knighting will have to come from higher up,” I said. “This is a mission that requires product changes in multiple divisions.”

Still smiling, Tom stepped toward his desk and picked up the phone. “Can you be ready to present at TJ’s business ops meeting on Monday?” (“TJ” was Tom Jurmoluk, the company’s COO.)

Without hesitation, my mouth said, “Yes,” but my mind thought, “Whoa, that’s crazy. I don’t even have a draft presentation!”

A minute later, Tom hung up the phone. “Okay, Monday’s totally booked, but you’re now on the agenda for the exec team meeting on Wednesday.”

I thanked Tom, and as we headed out of his cubicle, he said, “One thing, though. I don’t want you go hat in hand, asking for money.”

I nodded and quickly left, eager to start working on what might be the most important presentation of my Silicon Valley career.

To be continued

 


 

1This is an old acronym for “What You See Is What You Get” which came into common use in the 1980’s during the word processing revolution. From Wikipedia “a WYSIWYG editor is a system in which content (text and graphics) onscreen during editing appears in a form closely corresponding to its appearance when printed or displayed as a finished product, which might be a printed document, web page, or slide presentation.”

2Standard General Markup Language,” the father of HTML.

3The first commercial HTML editor, which I had encountered weeks before.

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Happy 20th to HotWired, the Banner Ad, and the Other “First Digital Ad”

[20 Years Ago, Part 6. Other options: prior post or start at the beginning.]

20 years ago today, the new medium of the web got a serious dose of “new media” with the launch of Wired magazine’s online sibling, HotWired, and its then-innovative monetization mechanism, the banner ad. Of course, much has been written about the birth of the banner ad, due to the remarkable impact and longevity of the format. (For example, here’s an AdAge piece on the 15th anniversary and AdWeek on the 20th.) Below are two of the original 12 banner ads:

First Banner Ad

Early Volvo Ad

The cheeky “Have you ever clicked your mouse right here?” one at top is from AT&T. Other big brands in on this online “first” included Sprint, IBM, Club Med, and the then new (and not yet totally reviled) wine cooler alternative, Zima. You can see the full list of banner first-adopters in Andrew Anker’s answer in this Quora thread. (Andrew was HotWired’s CEO and co-founder.)

An interesting challenge faced by the pioneers of digital advertising was that few (if any) of HotWired’s first 12 clients actually had a website ready to direct consumer traffic to! So what happened if people clicked on one of these puppies? And click they did! Reports vary, but on the first days of the site going live, the click-through rate on the banners was as high as 78%, (though within weeks or months they would drop to 2%1). The answer: they went to a branded microsite, hosted on HotWired.com. That way, HotWired could assure a smooth user experience. Those microsites were built by Organic Online, the very first digital ad agency, which was in the same building in South Park as the HotWired team.

But enough about banner ads. (In more ways than one; I can hardly believe they still exist!) Instead, I’d like to take this historic anniversary day to pay homage to a different “first digital ad” that also debuted 20 years ago on HotWired: the web’s first “site sponsorship”…

While the first banners adorned the various secondary pages of the site, the home page actually was banner-free:

1994_hotwired

But it wasn’t ad-free. Though not captured by this old screen-grab (credit: web UX pioneer Jakob Nielsen), there was a very prominent ad unit at bottom of the page, right in the center, which made it clear that this site was running on the sexiest computer hardware around — Silicon Graphics (SGI).

I’d like to claim credit for coming up with the deal behind this other first digital ad. After all, I was leading the charge to explore the web as a possible new market for the company. And I had first heard the term “web server” nine months earlier from none other than Jonathan Steuer, the information architect for what would become HotWired. (He was intent on using Indys for the web server from the very beginning of the project2.)

No, the credit for negotiating the web’s first site sponsorship deal goes to Sanford Russell (also on the Indy marketing team at SGI) and Andrew Anker. The details are a bit murky in our collective memory, but the best I’ve pieced together is that we traded five beefed up configurations of Indy in exchange for a six-month exclusive sponsorship. The retail value of those machines was probably $40,000 to $50,000 (and the cost to us, given our high margins at the time, was probably about half that.)

My fondest and most vivid memory is what happened between when the ink on the deal dried and when HotWired launched, a period in which we needed to figure out what we wanted the sponsorship ad unit to look like or say. I called a brainstorm session with Sanford, Pat Tickle, and a few other Indy marketing colleagues. A bunch of ideas went up on the white board, but I came up with the winner. Actually, in truth, I stole the winning idea from a different domain of SGI marketing.

A few months earlier, I had attended my first SIGGRAPH, down in Orlando, Florida. In that era, SGI was so dominant that our relationship to SIGGRAPH was almost like Apple’s relationship with MacWorld. Our “booth” was freakin’ enormous, so big, in fact, that it bore the name “Silicon City” on signage towering over its four huge entrances. Below that, it said “Powered by Silicon Graphics”. And that was the magic phrase I was searching for! Once that bubbled up in my mind, I was sure we had the winner. The brainstorm ended as soon as I spoke it aloud.

I’ve searched and searched and not found a screenshot of the full home page of HotWired at its launch. But I have found one from a few months later, where the “Powered by Silicon Graphics” ad unit is highly prominent (and clearly clickable):

Powered By Silicon Graphics

So, there you have it — the previously untold story of the web’s other first ad unit. The “Powered by Silicon Graphics” campaign with HotWired was a big hit, giving us instant cachet and credibility in the nascent web server market (even before we had agreed upon a strategy). In the months that followed, we would do similar deals (although for considerably less hardware) with several other high profile websites, including the Internet Underground Music Archive, Organic Online, and Rolling Stone, creating the impression that we were the web server market leader even before we launched our web server product line. Within months, sites even started putting “Powered by Silicon Graphics” on their home page without us giving them anything at all! Eventually, the term “powered by” became the de facto standard for site sponsorship deals. But how all of that would come to be is a story best saved for a future post.

[Update: The folks at Wired now have a nice telling of the creation of HotWired up.]

To be continued

 


1 Almost all of the facts in this paragraph I learned from a recent interview with Andrew Anker on the Internet History Podcast

 

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The Web’s Very First Industry Event

[20 Years Ago, Part 5. Other options: prior post or start at the beginning.]

I now return to my telling of the events of 20 years ago, as the web emerged from its academic origins and became the single biggest wave of change to hit the tech industry…

It was October 1994, and a startup still called Mosaic Communications had just launched the beta of its “Netscape” browser (press release) with a completely radical pricing strategy: free1. It’s hard to explain now just how electrifying that release was, other than to say that for many of us, the launch of the Netscape browser (less than six months since the founding of the company) was like the firing of a starting gun. Clearly, it was time to pick up the pace and start running – as fast as possible. But in which direction?

The answer, for those in know, was “Chicago” and an event with the unwieldy name of “The Second International WWW Conference: Mosaic and the Web,” that kicked off exactly 20 years ago today.

ChicagoBanner

Though it had been preceded by a decidedly academic First International WWW Conference (with fewer than 400 participants) some six months earlier at CERN, the Second International WWW Conference in Chicago was truly the web’s first industry event. It had a Vendor Exhibits area, featuring tech giants Microsoft, IBM, HP, DEC, and Sun, plus a dozen smaller companies. And for potential attendees, ticket demand greatly exceeded supply, with nearly 1,000 people getting wait-listed – or worse – showing up at the venue to find it sold out. For all of us who did get in, seeing so many people turned away totally reinforced that we were at the start of something HUGE.

SecondInternationalWWW

So now, let me take you inside that historic event, through a combination of my most vivid memories and a memory-enhancing treasure trove of 20-year-old web pages I recently discovered in an almost completely intact copy of the event’s official site, saved for posterity by the Wayback Machine. I encourage you to take some time to check it out; all of the awesome graphics and many of the “hard facts” in this post came from there. To my great surprise, the site even includes a directory of digital photos from the conference, presumably captured with a QuickTake 100, the first consumer digital camera (launched four months earlier via an unlikely partnership between Apple and Kodak). Here are my two favorite shots, taken at the registration area (image credit to Ira Goldstein and/or Ed Burns):

Sold Out

Registration

The Web’s First Trade Show

Though much of the conference was dedicated to presentations, panel discussions, and tutorials, I was much more focused more on networking (human-to-human IRL) and market research. When the Vendor Exhibits opened up, I was among the first to enter, keen to find answers to questions like: What are the most promising market segments for a company like Silicon Graphics? What are our competitors offering and where do they appear to be heading? And is anyone already shipping truly great authoring software for this new medium?

Fortunately, what I saw from our competitors was underwhelming. For example, here’s how HP described what they were showing (as captured on the vendor exhibits page): “The WWW represents a tremendous opportunity. Stop by the HP booth and see what we’re doing with it. Try your hand at “surfing the net”.” IBM’s pitch was more detailed, but remarkably less coherent: “Take a tour through IBM’s World Wide Web and experience what a full multimedia RISC System 6000 can offer. AIX applications being shown will include multimedia tools, systems management, network management, and the Common Desktop Environment. Also, get a sneak preview of what the IBM webmasters are working on.” I’m not sure, but Sun was probably showing off their just-launched Netra Internet Server, a solution that: “Gives PC, Macintosh and UNIX workstation users on LANs direct connection from their desktops and enables them to ‘surf’ the Internet using Mosaic software and other popular network browsing tools.” In short, our competitors seemed to be focused on access to the web or on what you can do with the web, not on positioning their hardware and software for actually building the web.

But there was one vendor present who had (almost) exactly what I was looking for. The company was SoftQuad, based out of Toronto, and their product of interest was HoTMetaL Pro, the very first commercial HTML editor. I had a great discussion with the company’s charming co-founder/CEO, Yuri Rubinsky, who showed openness to a potential partnership that would involve them porting to IRIX (our flavor of UNIX). He gave me a shrink-wrapped box of the software to evaluate back in California. We exchanged business cards and agreed to talk formally after the conference.

So, at least there was one commercial product for web development, and its maker, unlike creative tools titans, Macromedia and Adobe, would not freeze us out from the market by shunning our platform2. That said, HoTMetaL Pro was clearly a technically-oriented tool, strongly wed to its SGML roots, whereas the vision that had been brewing in my mind was of a WYSIWY3 web authoring tool, something for designers and business people, not programmers. And, based on what I saw at the conference, that was a market opportunity that was still wide open.

NightLife

A Big Night

That evening, there was a dinner at the Museum of Science and Industry. According to the original program, attendance was limited to the first 600 to sign up (out of the total 1,200 attendees of the conference). Buses shuttled us South along the lake’s shore, a fifteen-minute drive to the Museum of Science and Industry. The program says that the exhibits were open for exploration, but I had none of that, heading straight to the bar reception area with food and drink.

As luck would have it, the first person I happened to chat with was Lou Montulli4, whom I learned was a founding engineer at Mosaic Communications – one of the guys who just built the Netscape browser! I was thrilled. As I introduced myself, I handed Lou my business card (which still said “Indy Product Manager”), and his face lit up. “Indy Product Manager? We need to talk!” And talk we did: all through the reception and all through the dinner at a table way in the back of the banquet.

Lou shared that the Indy was in the center of the action at Mosaic Communications. It was the workstation that most of the team was using for software development, and it was also being used as the server for downloading the Netscape browser. (Doubtless the busiest web server on the Internet at that time!) One topic Lou wanted to discuss was server performance. Was there any way that I could help them scale up (as they were seeing crushing traffic)? At some point in the evening, I excused myself to make a phone call to the head of software for Indy, Ken Klingman, to get the ball rolling on a project to overcome whatever bottlenecks Mosaic was encountering with their Indys. I remember Ken saying, “Well, it is meant to be multi-user workstation, but we didn’t design it for hundreds of simultaneous users!”

After dinner, people started streaming out of the ballroom. As Lou and I stood to join the exodus, someone called out to Lou, “There you are!” And there was Marc Andreessen (easy to recognize from months of ever-increasing publicity) along with several others from the Mosaic contingent. Obviously, they were curious who had kidnapped Lou. After quick introductions, we boarded a bus for a trip back to the hotel. The seats were already full or almost full; I’m pretty sure Marc, Lou, and I all ended up standing for the ride. Along the way, we hatched a plan to head out to a Blues bar, where we would end up drinking and talking until 2:00 in the morning!

So, that was when and how I first met Marc Andreessen, kicking off a relationship that continues to this day. (Marc led Andreessen Horowitz’s seed investment in my current company, MediaSpike.)

NightLifeBar

Night of My Epiphany

Of course, after 20 years, I can’t recall the details of the many conversations I participated in late that night in the Blues bar. Generally, I got a much better sense of what our most important potential partner, Mosaic Communications, was focused on (browser and server software) and what they weren’t (authoring software).

What I do vividly and viscerally recall is that it was this evening when it all came together for me. I achieved a state of clarity, conviction, and passion about how the web market would unfold and how Silicon Graphics could ride this enormous wave. It’s really hard to describe such a feeling, but I can assure you it was truly exhilarating. I gained a practically religious conviction that the web was the next mass medium, the biggest wave of change in the technology landscape, and the biggest new market opportunity for the company I happened to be at.

With my Chicago epiphany complete, I felt a great sense of urgency to get back to Mountain View to get the plan rolling, keen for Silicon Graphics to be first-to-market with the picks and shovels for this new Gold Rush.

I was returning with great news of enormous opportunities for my division and for two others. Surely, I would be received with open arms…

 

[To be continued]

 


 

1″For downloading by individual, academic and research users”. The company ended up pulling in a lot of revenue from licensing to enterprises and OEMs before Microsoft responded with free Internet Explorer — bundled with Windows.

2See my last post for the back-story here

3This is an old acronym for “What You See Is What You Get” which came into common use in the 1980′s during the word processing revolution. From Wikipedia “a WYSIWYG editor is a system in which content (text and graphics) onscreen during editing appears in a form closely corresponding to its appearance when printed or displayed as a finished product, which might be a printed document, web page, or slide presentation.”

4Lou Montulli would have a big impact on the web. Here’s what Wikipedia says about him. And in this blogpost, Lou talks about the reasoning behind Web cookies, which he created.

 

 

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Virtual Reality: Then and Now

[Note: Though this post touches on events in the ’90’s, it is not part of my ongoing “20 Years Ago” series. I’ll return to that in due time, but, given how hot virtual reality has become (again), I felt compelled to interrupt my narrative to share some personal experiences and thoughts on the topic.]

I am honored to have recently had the chance to experience the second-generation Oculus Rift, the magical hardware/software combo that inspired first an Andreessen Horowitz Series B and then, within four months , a $2 billion acquisition by Facebook. As you can imagine, it was truly awesome. My deeply personal reaction can be summed up in four words, “Finally, it is here.”

You see, I got inspired by the concept of virtual reality nearly 25 years ago, when in 1990, the Wall Street Journal ran a piece on the technology, featuring Jaron Lanier, the dreadlocked visionary who coined the term “virtual reality” and who created the first VR startup, VPL. The article’s headline characterized the technology as no less than “electronic LSD,” giving virtual reality a forceful send off into Phase One of the hype cycle.

Less than a year later, when I arrived in Silicon Valley to go to Stanford Business School, I made getting over to VPL my top priority. Within weeks, I had successfully tapped my fledgling network to arrange a visit to VPL for me and a few classmates, hosted by George Zachary, VPL’s marketing director (and future colleague of mine at Silicon Graphics, who would go on to great success in the venture capital business at CRV). We got to put on the hardware (headgear and glove) and become among the first humans to explore immersion in an interactive virtual reality. I brought along my 35mm film camera and had someone take these pictures of me experiencing the demo. (That’s half of George on the right in the first image below.)

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

I remember being very excited by the experience. It helped ignite a passion for interactive 3D content that would become a major theme of my Silicon Valley career (from Silicon Graphics hardware, to trying to bring 3D to the web via VRML, and all the way to my current venture, MediaSpike, focused on the biggest 3D market so far, mobile gaming). But, in hindsight, VPL was a classic false start: a concept pursued before its time, and a company that would end in bankruptcy. VPL was not just a few years too early; it was decades before its time. That first encounter of mine with a VR headset was 23 years ago, and Oculus Rift DK2, as exciting as it is, is currently just a prototype of a developer release. The consumer version is not expected to ship until sometime next year. We are only just now truly on the cusp.

So, what did I see and experience through the VPL rig? Honestly, I don’t remember the details, just the hints of magic. Fortunately, I took a photo of a TV monitor during one of the other demos that day. Here’s what we saw:

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

And, yes, somehow, I walked away from that demo more confident that virtual reality had a bright future…

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, to the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality conference at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. I had been fortunate enough to learn of the event via a Facebook post from an old friend, Tony Parisi, co-creator of VRML, who would be speaking on a panel at the conference. I tried to register, but a sign of how hot virtual reality had become (again) — it was completely sold out! Fortunately, Tony was willing to ask a favor on my behalf, and, as a result, I was able to buy a pass for Day 2 of the event.

I greatly enjoyed the first session I got into, one on game development for VR. The members of the panel were unknown to me, but not to each other – or to the crowd. There were lots of, “Your stuff inspired me” kinds of comments, along with thoughtful discussion about: the special challenges of how to develop VR content; UI paradigms; and most-needed enhancements to the current generation of development tools.

But what I was really excited about was the upcoming break at the end of the panel. When it came, I quickly exited the room and headed straight for my primary target: the expo room and the Oculus Rift booth. I don’t know if it was my speed or that fact that it was the second day of the conference, but somehow I managed to get there before anyone else. Soon, I was seated in a comfy living room chair and told I’d be competing against the guy who arrived just after me. I slipped on the “DK2″ (developer kit 2). One of the demo guys put headphones on me, and through them I was barely able to hear some rapid-fire instructions, involving a sword, a shield, jumping, and the various game controller features. Suddenly, a game controller was thrust into my hands.

Path 2014-05-20 12_02

And then it happened. The world turned on, and I was in a virtual living room with a coffee table in front of me, atop which were two smallish 3D characters, each with a sword and a shield. My opponent sat in a chair to the right of the coffee table. I was temporarily overwhelmed with the joy of finally seeing true, high-quality VR, the compulsion to not suck at my virtual sword fight, and the strangeness of having my avatar controlling a virtual avatar. I smacked the various buttons, knocking my opponent off the table with my shield, and then knocking down a set of wooden blocks on the table with the swipe of my (my character’s?) sword. Within a minute, I was so engaged in the battle that I achieved full suspension of disbelief. I looked over at my opponent and saw his head move to; we were both exploring. I looked down at my hands, and saw (virtually) the controller in them. Then, my opponent upped the ante, and had his character change the target of its attack from my little character to me. His creature jumped in my lap and started swiping at me. And then, darkness. My heart was racing.

CouchKnight_1

That, and many other experiences that day, convinced me that we are now, finally, on the cusp of the virtual reality going mainstream. I thoroughly enjoyed my experiences at the conference and felt like I had a sort of homecoming. After the panel that Tony was on, a conversation on “building the metaverse,” I planned to head out and go back to the office. As I was thanking Tony, he asked, “Did you see the Kite and Lightning demo?” I had not. “You have to,” he said. “These guys are making some of the best VR content ever.”

And so, I ended a great day with a truly mind-blowing encounter with immersive 3D content. You must experience it yourself when it is finalized and the Oculus Rift is available to all, but in the meantime, I recommend reading this description of it, then watching the YouTube video:

Of course, the real experience is far more visceral. But I am convinced the dream that has inspired so many of us for so long is finally about to be achieved.

 

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20 Years Ago (Part 4): Indy’s “Catch-22″

[20 Years Ago: Part 3]

By the summer of 1994, just a few months after landing what I asserted was “the best job in Silicon Valley,” I was already thinking of moving on. How was that possible?

Silicon Graphics was still the hottest company in the Valley – and getting hotter. Our much-ballyhooed interactive television partnership with Time Warner was getting close to launch (and stilled seemed like a good idea at the time). We were hard at work on the Nintendo 64, the world’s first 3D game console. Video server partnerships had just been announced with AT&T and Japan’s NTT. And our market cap now topped that of rivals Sun and DEC.

But things were not so rosy for Indy.

In some ways, we were still recovering from an imperfect launch the prior year. The big plan for Indy was to dramatically increase sales volumes by hitting a much lower price point. Instead of the $10,000 price tag of its predecessor1, the Indigo, Indy’s strategic mandate was to break the $5,000 barrier. And Indy did just that, tiptoeing across that magical line with an entry-level configuration priced at $4,995. There was just one problem – that config, with only 16 MB of RAM, wouldn’t boot.

Yes, all around the world, customers excitedly opened their beautiful blue boxes labeled “Serious Fun,” smiled at the bright blue “pizza box” inside (and its accompanying juggling balls), and eagerly set up their system, complete with the trailblazing digital “IndyCam.” But when they powered up their sweet new workstation, its paltry 16 MB of RAM (critical to hitting the price and margin targets) was not enough memory to load the all-brand-new-and-maybe-not-quite-finished 5.1 version of the operating system. So it would just hang. Outrage ensued.

Of course, soon additional memory was shipped for free to irate customers. And the base configuration got bumped to 32 MB of RAM. By the time I joined, that “imperfect launch” was behind us, but Indy now faced a much larger and harder problem to solve — actually achieving the very ambitious volume goals set alongside its pricing strategy.

Indy’s volume problem was really a classic “Catch-22″. From a hardware perspective, Indy was truly a multimedia monster: 64-bit RISC CPU, video-capable 100 MHz system bus, integrated video camera, and enough inputs and outputs that the headline from one ad was “Any port in a brainstorm”. 

Any port in a brainstorm

And multimedia authoring was a super-hot market, driven by the explosive growth in sales of interactive CD-ROMs (such as “Mad Dog McCree,” a Western shootout simulation game which gave rise to my industry nickname) and the popularity of Macromedia’s flagship authoring tool, Director. Imagine the breakout sales that could be driven from a marriage of Indy’s multimedia hardware and Macromedia’s multimedia software! Alas, Director was a Mac application; it was not available on IRIX (our flavor of Unix). And all efforts to persuade Macromedia to port to IRIX were to no avail. Why? Not enough volume.

Lack of volume also meant tepid support from Adobe. There was a version of Photoshop running on IRIX, but it was a generic port via some tool called “Latitude”. It didn’t take advantage of our sweet GUI, nor was it very fast.

I very much wanted to find a way out of Indy’s volume Catch-22. But finding a new “killer app” willing to play nice with us seemed like a big job. I knew I couldn’t do that and handle all of the day-to-day tasks of the Indy product manager.

As luck would have it, I got the perfect opportunity to act on my desire for a new role. In August2, Jim White, the well-regarded marketing leader for the mid-range workstation division (maker of the company’s Indigo2 “cash cow”), was named director of marketing for our division, filling a position that had been vacant for a few months. Jim’s charter was to re-invigorate the efforts to make Indy a high-volume platform.

After Jim was introduced to the team and gave a great pep talk, he came up to each of us individually for a quick chat. I think he asked me something like, was I “liking the role of product manager?”. His positive energy and unblinking you-can-trust-me eye contact inspired me to do what many at Silicon Graphics would consider career suicide. I told him there might be a better role for me than product manager.

“And what is it you want to do?” Jim asked.

“Marketing with a capital ‘m,’” I said. “I think our breakout growth opportunity will come from a new market, and I’d like to focus on looking for it.”

“Okay, let’s work to back-fill you ASAP,” he said. “Go find us a new market.”

To be continued

_________________________

1Press release announcing Indigo

2I confess I’m not sure what month this happened; August is my best guess.

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20 Years Ago (Part 3): Yahoo, the Web, and Love at First “Site”

A few months passed between when I first heard about the web in January 1994 and when I actually saw it for the very first time. And that’s probably a good thing, since early 1994 was the exact period of time in which “dot coms” exploded on to the world wide web1, rapidly extending the diversity of web content far beyond its original subject matter, particle physics.

In April of 1994, when I finally downloaded Mosaic, I headed straight to the one site known to make it super-easy to discover and experience all of that new and diverse content: Yahoo. But I didn’t get there by typing “yahoo.com”.

It is true that the site had just embraced the short, fun, and memorable name, Yahoo, after operating for a few months with the unwieldy moniker “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web”. But, hard to believe now, once they chose the new name, Jerry Yang and David Filo did not immediately secure the yahoo domain. (In fact the site would not start to operate as yahoo.com until January 1995!) As a result, all of us who heard about Yahoo by word-of-mouth sometime in 1994 had to also know and correctly type the URL associated with Jerry’s workstation on Stanford campus: akebono.stanford.edu/yahoo2.

Below is the Yahoo I saw (or as close as we can now get; this screenshot is from some unknown date between April and December 1994). It may look ungainly to you now, but for me, and for so many others, this was the page that made the web a case of  “love at first site”:

Yahoo 1994

With this proto-Yahoo, if you had interest in a specific site or topic, you could quickly navigate the site’s hierarchy and find what you were looking for. But if you were curious, bored, or just new to the web (as most of us were), the awesome top-level navigation was where the action was. With the total number of servers on the web doubling every three months, What’s new? What’s cool? What’s popular? and “Random link” provided the perfect options for exploration and serendipity. Like so many others, I quickly became addicted, coming back multiple times a day to find new sites, and to watch the exponential growth of the web across a large and growing number of content categories.

What sorts of cool, new sites might one discover via Yahoo?

One of my early favorites was “IUMA” (short for the Internet Underground Music Archive). Years before Napster, this site let you discover and download digital music (in the MP2 format) from hundreds of indie bands. Hard to believe, but CNN had already done a short piece of them in March 1994. Well worth a watch:

(BTW, I’ll have more to say about IUMA in a future post, but that story comes later in the year.)

I’d love to show you more of the web from Spring of 1994, but almost all of the sites that inspired me then are now long gone.

To be continued

________________________

1Insight from the model I built, starting with data from M.I.T.’s Matthew Gray

2From a great article on Yahoo on History-Computer.com

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20 Years Ago (Part 2): The Web of January 1994

[This is the second post in a series looking back on 1994, the year in which the web transitioned from a platform for scientists to a commercial interaction medium. At the end of my first post, set in January 1994, I revealed that I didn’t know what a web server was.]

How could I, a product manager at a company that sold high-performance UNIX workstations and servers, not know what a web server was? The simple truth is that in January 1994, I had never seen nor heard of the web. Hardly anyone had.

Through a bit of online archeology, I now know that the total number of web servers in existence at the time was less than 8001 – and they were almost all of the “.edu” flavor2, hosted at places like CERN and SLAC. And although there’s no count of how many people were on the web at the time, my best estimate is 3.7 million3.

The web of January 1994 is largely gone, and cannot be re-constructed. But, believe it or not, in that month some folks at Georgia Tech’s Graphics, Visualization, and Usability Center did what must be the very first web-based survey attempting to characterize the users of the “world wide web”. James Pitkow and Margaret Recker were trying to learn things like: which browsers were people using, how frequently were they surfing the web, and some basic facts about who those early adopters were (and to see whether, as they believed, the web would be a better platform for surveys than email had been).

And even more surprising than knowing such a survey was done so early, is discovering, as I did a few days ago, that the original survey and its results are still online!

So, let’s use those survey results to travel back in time to a very different web than the one we experience today. First up: gender. Apparently, the web of January 1994 was, to put it mildly, a bit of a boys club. Males accounted for a whopping 95% of respondents. I assume this says far less about the web than it does about the professions that were among its earliest users. (Physics, I’m looking at you!)

Image

And these folks diverged from the mainstream in another significant way. They were not surfing the early web on commodity hardware from the old “Wintel” duopoly. No, 92% of them were on UNIX workstations (and most likely enjoying always-on broadband connections via Ethernet, versus slow, intermittent connectivity via dial-up).

Image

Remember the browser war, when Microsoft and Netscape fought each other, tooth and nail? Well, that was still a ways off, as Netscape did not yet exist, and Microsoft had no plans for making a web browser. Nonetheless, the browser question offered no fewer than five choices, listed alphabetically (Cello, Lynx, Mosaic, Other, and Samba). As it turns out, that was three choices too many. Mosaic, developed by Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina at NCSA and released less than 12 months earlier, had completely taken over, accounting for 97% of respondents! (The remaining 3% were using Lynx, a text-based browser developed by Lou Montulli, Michael Grobe, and Charles Rezac at University of Kansas).

Image

It’s also interesting what the survey reveals about the utility of the early web. With fewer than 800 total servers on the web, it’s easy to imagine that usage would be fairly infrequent. Quite the contrary; 20% of respondents used their browser more than nine times a day! Another 18% accessed the web 5 to 8 times a day. And another 42% reported one to four times a day. Together, that’s 80% of early users finding the web so essential that they used it every single day.

Image

You can see all of the graphs here, and read the full paper here. Who knows just how representative this data is of the whole of the web at the time? But as far as I can tell, it is the only such dataset of its kind from that time period, so let’s be thankful that it exists, is online, and can be read by modern browsers.

To be continued

____________________________________

1The number 800 comes from a model I built, starting with data from M.I.T.’s Matthew Gray, which counts 623 servers in December 1993 rising to 2,738 by June 1994.

2Also from Matthew Gray

3The 3.7 million estimate I backed into, based on data for 1995 through 1999 from Internet World Stats, with year-over-year growth of approximately 110%

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