My First Internet Millennium

by bauer on April 3, 2018

I’ve been an Internet professional for 25 years now, starting out in 1993 trying to build an integrated email, telnet, ftp, and gopher client for the Entrepreneurship program getting my MBA at Carnegie Mellon University*.
In the computer lab one day, somebody tapped me on the shoulder and said “Have you seen this Mosaic thing? I took one look at my first web page - a couple of pictures and some text in some horrible font - dumped what I was doing, and reached out to Marc Andreessen for the code. $50,000 for the source. Couldn’t get funding for a business plan to make the first commercial browser.

I was fortunate to connect up with Tim O’Reilly that spring and ended up at the first World Wide Web conference in July (“You CAN get there from here!”). Marc showed up, I registered Internet.Org over shots of Strega, and we all agreed with Tim Berners-Lee not to patent the next thing the web really needed - Tim called them cookies, I think.

Tim gave me my first gig with O’Reilly as the business manager for GNN, the Global Network Navigator, the first professionally published directory on the Web. Tim and I ended up selling the first advertisements on the Web - he his lawyer, me NordicTrack. Tim gave me the freedom to strike out on my own and I started connecting companies to the Internet, registering their domains, and building their web sites.

It wasn’t just like being a kid in the candy store; it was like being a kid in a shopping mall full of candy stores. I thought about automating domain registration but couldn’t figure out how to get paid. I thought about patenting the system we designed to connect ordering products over the Internet for a company called Black Box but calling up their fax-line seemed a bit dumb. I thought about being an end-to-end provider of hardware and software but settled on just putting big companies - ConEd, Fisher Scientific, Ameritech, PPG, PNC Bank, Legent - on the Web.

I had one of the first couple of booths selling web services at the second Internet World conference where I started making presentations about doing business on the Web. In the next year or so my seniority at the show let me have a booth right in the middle of the Javits Center, in between Microsoft and Novell. After one of my talks some guy came up to me and asked me to help him build a new web site. It was pornography. “Oh, no”, I said, “I couldn’t do that.” I’m Pennsylvania Dutch, doncha know.

At conference after-parties, I got along really well with the guy who ran Novell. Not so much the guy who ran Netscape. Jerry Wang offered me a job but my company was bigger than his so that made no sense. Tim Berners-Lee convinced me building an HTML editor was the way to go.

I opted to start with a knowledge-based content management platform, called ManageIT! Changed the name of my company from The Internet Group to Imperative! Put MapQuest on the Web. Sucked down all the bandwidth in Pennsylvania in 6 months. Guess using Perl as a Web Server wasn’t the best performance solution. When you started out with only about 300,000 domains registered in the world, don’t exactly think about performance like you do today.

Picked up an investor - or rather he picked me up. Great to have someone with union ties on your board. Having the shop steward have your booth setup first among the acres in Javits was great. On the other hand, taking money from someone with union ties is inadvisable.

“What do you mean you missed the deadline for delivering the first of its kind HTML GUI editor written in X?” Had to be be stealing. Get an ex-Naval intelligence officer to follow him. Get one of the Big Three accounting firms to audit him. Don’t find anything? Get another one of the Big Three to audit him. Still nothing? Oh well, may as bring the third one in too - make it a trifecta.

…to be continued.

*Technically it was a Master of Science in Industrial Administration because it’s, well, CMU.

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