IBG reported to Bill Strecker, the company's technology guru, and had its headquarters in the same building in Littleton, Mass., as Sam Fuller's Research Group. Researchers at Digital's labs in Palo Alto, CA, and Cambridge, MA had played important pioneering roles in the development of the Internet, long before the Web. Back in 1977, when ARPAnet consisted of just 60 nodes, Digital was the first computer or networking company to connect. In 1985, Digital became the first computer company to register an Internet domain and also created the first corporate Internet mail gateway, this gives every email user in Digital full access to the Internet. By 1986, they had created the first Internet "firewall," protection against attacks by hackers. When Web browsers finally became available for PCs, in October, 1993, Russ Jones (who later became one of the first members of IBG) posted the company's product literature on the Web, thereby creating the first commercial Web site from a Fortune 500 company. By January 1994, Digital's researchers had put the City of Palo Alto and the Future Fantasy Bookstore on the Web, as early experiments of how the Web could be used by local government and small businesses. That same month, Richard Seltzer and Berthold Langer (both future IBG members) created a brief video tape "A Glimpse of the Future" which helped alert not just Digital internal audiences, but the industry as well, of the business potential of the Internet. Thousands of copies of that tape were distributed by NCSA (the folks who had developed Mosaic, the first popular Web browser) and computer companies around the world. For that video, they received the first Internet Marketing Award at Internet World in May 1994. (You can now see and hear this video, "A Glimpse of the Future" online broadband (256K), dialup (56K); requires RealPlayer. You can read the script at http://www.samizdat.com/glimpse.html).
For at least a year before IBG was formed, Brian Reid, head of Digital's Western Research Lab, had repeatedly and eloquently stressed the importance of the Internet to Digital's survival and the fact that the time was right and resources available for Digital to become THE Internet company. In February 1994, Brian, together with three other Internet advocates from Digital -- Alan Kotok (senior consulting engineer, later IBG, and now associate director of the World Wide Web Consortium), Steve Fink (marketing, later IBG), and Gail Grant (from Palo Alto) -- visited Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the Web) in Geneva to learn about CERN's plans for the Web so they could better assess the Web's business potential.
In his book, Weaving the Web : The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee describes this meeting as a turning point:
"Alan had been pushing DEC in the direction of the Web ever since he had been shown a Web browser, and management had asked Steve to put together a team to assess the future of the Internet for DEC. Steve explained that they would be largely redesigning DEC as a result of the Web. While they saw this as a huge opportunity, they were concerned about where the Web was headed, worried that the Web was perhaps defined by nothing more than specifications stored on some disk sitting around somewhere at CERN. they wanted to know what CERN's attitude was about the future path of the Web, and whether they could rest assured that it would remain stable yet evolve.
"I asked them what their requirements were, what they felt was important. They felt strongly that there should be a neutral body acting as convener. They were not interested in taking over the Web, or having some proprietary control of it. But they really wanted a body of oversight to which they could become attached. They wondered if CERN would do this.
"For me this was a listening meeting. It was important input into the decision about what to do next." (p. 78)
In May, a virtual team led by Gail Grant put together a Digital exhibit at Internet World in San Jose. In August, Richard Seltzer wrote an Internet speech for delivery by Governor Weld of Massachusetts and Governor Cambell of South Carolina at the National Governors' Conference in Boston, and Jim Gettys (from the Cambridge Research Labs) set up a live demo that was the first time that most of these governors had seen the Internet. And that same month, Sirrka Jarvenpaa, a visiting professor at the Harvard Business School, began interviewing for a case study "Digital Equipment Corporation: The Internet Company", which she and co-author Blake Ives published in October and which was used by dozens of business schools in courses about Internet business for several years to come. And that same month as well, after much discussion, the Internet Business Group was formed, with Rose Ann Giordano as vice president.
In the interim, a few people who had been strong Internet advocates and innovators and who were impatient to get started left the company to pursue other opportunities. For instance, Win Treese and Andy Payne from the Cambridge Research Labs, and Gail Mann from the labs in Palo Alto left for Open Market. And NT marketing guru Ed Cuoco left for Vermeer, which later became Microsoft's FrontPage (see High Stakes, No Prisoners by Charles Ferguson).
From the beginning, IBG acted as the core guiding force behind a much larger virtual team, depending on Internet enthusiasts and experts throughout the company. But the company was in serious trouble, laying off many people and reorganizing repeatedly as it tried to adjust to a changing marketplace. Hence, one of the first tasks for IBG was to do what it could to save those virtual team members from being laid off by groups that didn't understand their importance to the future of the company. So over time, within the limits of headcount budgets and periodic transfer/hiring freezes, a number of virtual players became IBG employees.
The virtual team also included many "partners" -- small startups, who turned to Digital for advice and support, at a time when no one was making money on the Internet and it was not yet clear that anyone would or how. One of the first of these partners was Netscape (originally called "Mosaic Communications), with Digital becoming their first OEM in November 1994, within a month of the launch of their first browser. Developing relationships with these new companies often presented political challenges, having to deal with pre-existing Digital programs and partners and balance close, long-standing relationships with companies like Microsoft.
Internet technology and business was developing at such a pace that the playing field and the messages changed significantly about once every six months. And marketing efforts were punctuated by major trade shows -- particularly, Internet World in the spring and fall -- through 1995 and 1996.
IBG's goal was to move quickly like a startup, and have a product out the door within six months, packaging third party software with Alpha hardware. The engineering efforts started in "virtual mode", with the company's first packaged Web server system (a turnkey combination of hardware and software) developed under the direction of the Education Group and then taken over and marketed and further developed by IBG. But IBG soon assembled its own small engineering team which guided and developed such pioneering products as WebForum (now SiteScape Forum, probably the first commercial product designed for threaded discussion on the Web), and a family of security products, including firewalls and a "tunnel" (the first commercially available Virtual Private Network [VPN] product). And the research labs, inspired by Brian Reid's leadership, continued to generate innovative technology and showcase projects, the most successful of which was AltaVista (brainchild of Louis Monier, Mike Burrows, and Paul Flaherty), publicly launched as a research project in December 1995. (In 1996, Richard Seltzer from IBG wrote the book The AltaVista Search Revolution, which was published by Osborne/McGraw-Hill).
Meanwhile, the company went through one reorganization after another, and the role and reporting relationship of IBG was redefined again and again. In 1996, IBG spun off the AltaVista Group, and the software engineering team moved over.
As IBG succeeded, the Internet became increasingly important to the company's business, eventually pervading all of its activities. Late in 1996, the group moved to Marlboro, Mass., and by the end of 1997, it had been dissolved, with many team members going on to run Internet-related activities in other organizations throughout the company. In 1998, just as Digital's business was turning around, the company was sold to Compaq, and many former IBG members left, going on to play important roles in dozens of companies throughout the industry.
-- Richard Seltzer, August 2000
Alan Kotok, 8/29/2000 -- My comment on the whole article is that it misses the point that most of the efforts to develop internet software of our own were stifled, with essentially all the emphasis (and money) put on promoting Alpha servers. Thus the group never developed a credible engineering organization. As an example of a squandered opportunity, I point out Millicent. In 1995/96, the "advertising" mode of paying for web content was not established, and there was certainly a fighting chance for a micro-payment system such as Millicent, but the Digital response was too little, too late.
Dan Kalikow, 8/31/2000 -- Perhaps you could somehow allude to the IBG being primarily a vehicle that DEC created to use the web to flog its hardware. I and some others (probably including you) realized that another big future of the web was gonna be web application software. So I (with help from Jeff Black and others) presented the biz case to Bill Strecker that we should start an Internet Software Business Group. That's what it was called, until AltaVista ran away with the brand-name.
Joan Blair, 8/31/2000 -- Richard, that's quite a document on the history of IBG. I have some footnotes. I was the Product Marketing Manager for the first turn key packaged web server. This was the product developed initially for the Education Market and then expanded to suit all markets as we saw the opportunity grow. The Internet Alpha Server was the first hardware product to incorporate the Netscape browser. It was the first Internet product from Digital. We actually delivered an Internet Alpha Server in advance of the Sun Netra.
Fred Isbell, 8/31/2000 -- Thanks Richard -- do I see a Harvard Business School Case Study in the making? I Hope so -- the lessons of trying to be entrepreneurial in a big company, of being way ahead of your time, almost too early; of not being paid adequate attention to because senior management did not necessarily "get it".... My favorite conversation at the time was about the Internet not being a market, but transforming computing and the world as we knew it .....and we came up with the line "The Internet Changes Everything" ... and then seeing Sun and others run with the ball, even using some of our same words! Starting with "The Internet Is Ready For Business" and "Catch The Wave"; then "Real Results For A Virtual World" (as the guy who coined the tagline, I have a poster from Internet World Boston hanging in my basement....), then the bland "DIGITAL Internet Business Solutions" and an attempt to brand "AltaVista Internet Solutions" to make it a little cooler....the ~2 years after the dissolution of IBG and before the Compaq acquisition, where the Internet effort was distributed into several groups... then the acquisition by Compaq and the initial meetings in Houston....but I'll stop there before I get too angry ......
A couple of updates -- for me, I was brought in in early 1994 to do Internet Competitive analysis (before Gartner and IDC and others had even hired their analysts in this space!), general marketing and an evolving focus on strategic marketing including analyst relations .... don't forget my infamous Internet World Canada Keynote speech in 1997 .... then marketing manager for Intranet Solutions for the DIGITAL Solutuions Marketing Group, which was transfered over to the Services Solutions Marketing team, which morphed into eCommerce Solutions Marketing for the Compaq eCommerce Solutions group, which morphed into eCommerce Marketing for Compaq Professional Services. I'm now marketing manager for SAP's Small Medium Business team and ironically working with 7 ex-DIGITAL alumni I worked with in the FABS group prior to IBG!
Rose Ann Giordano, 9/1/2000 -- I've made a few comments, corrections if you'd like to incorporate. Those were great days and in spite of difficult times, we accomplished a lot. We were out there early and pretty much called the market correctly - ISPs, Intranets, then Internet Commerce. Pretty obvious now - not so obvious in 1995. Of course, you were our "soul" of the Internet.
Dale Rensing, Dale.Rensing@compaq.com, 9/5/2000 -- Upon returning from a two-year hiatus from Digital (I left the Networks group in 1995 to go work for a small networking company, Proteon), I obtained a position in the Server group as the liaison to IBG. It was in the last days of IBG in 1997. I had the pleasure of working with many of the folks in your alumni list... Mark Conway, Dudley Howe, Don Young, Jim Miller, Mark Holohan, Marc Nozell, Susan Wright... just to name a few. These wonderful folks really knew the Internet, and I really enjoyed working with them. Unfortunately, the group was soon dissected into three disparate groups - Intranet under Steve Fink, ISP under Dudley Howe, and eCommerce under Charlie Liberty (until Laura Farnham became the VP for that group). Whereas I had previously had to spend time with one group, my time now had to be divided between three, and that just was unworkable.
I've essentially maintained my position as Compaq took over control of the company. We've been through a number of reorgs since then, and unfortunately have lost so many of the original IBG members. Your web page is therefore invaluable, as it preserves much of the history that is lost as folks leave. I've already forwarded on your URL to the new organization so that they may benefit from the knowledge found there.
Please send my best out to all my friends in the former IBG. This was indeed a unique organization with a great set of expertise.
Per Hjerrpe, Per.Hjerppe@compaq.com, 9/27/2000 -- I read your history of IBG and thought that you might interested in the early ARPANET history and Digital.
I have really nothing to add except that IBG did very well in the ISP market in AP [Asia-Pacific] as we were the first company to focus on ISP's as a business. SUN didn't see this as a market till much later.
I think it's also worth mentioning the ISP lab in Nahsua, which we used as a proof point about Digital's understanding of the ISP market.
A very significant fact is the early support of IPv6 and IPv4 in Alpha UNIX and I believe Brian Reid was a very active proponent of IPv6. With the advent of internet support for mobile phones and the 3G mobile infrastructure IPv6 has gained in importance and acceptance.
Mary Lee Kennedy, firstname.lastname@example.org, 9/27/2000 -- This brought back lots of great memories when even though it was "tough" it was so exciting to be doing something new and innovative. BTW, in a broad sweep, I head up the internal corporate portal (MSWeb), the knowledge architecture, and information services/library. Its a great job but I have to admit to missing the crowd in your alumni page.
Jeffrey Harrow, Jeff.Harrow@compaq.com, 9/27/2000 --
Sigh, 'twas a sad reading; the list of names brought back fond memories. I hope your independent business is doing well Richard, and that your vision and energy are being rewarded.
For my part, as you know, I continue to do the RCFoC (www.compaq.com/rcfoc) which is doing well - it's overall circulation is now over a half-million per week, and I continue to enjoy the challenge of helping people understand the new technologies and how they might apply them. I've also been speaking at increasingly interesting forums, such as COMDEX, Disney/Discover Magazine, The Economist, etc. So it remains fun.
Thanks for including me in the list -- if only we had all collectively been able to push Digital over the Internet hump...
Stephen Stuart, email@example.com, 10/3/2000 --
Interesting. I would argue that the most successful spin-off of the labs was PAIX, not AltaVista, but that's somewhat tangential to the focus of the piece on IBG. There certainly was a lot of good stuff going on back then - it continues to amaze me that Digital managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Things are going well now at MFN [Metromedia Fiber Network]; plenty of work to do building a global optical Internet network, and hard to find people in the valley (no big news there).
Deb Shaw, Deborah205@aol.com, 10/16/2000 --
I felt very sad when Digital became Compaq. You know for years when I was putting the pc products on AOL, CompuServe and Ziff, I kept trying to get DEC to exploit the free space we where given. They just didn't get it. IMs, we had VAX Phone how many years ago? They just didn't get it. We had Altavista and could have done as well as Yahoo. They just didn't get it. What a shame.
Anyway, I "got it" left and have been truly blessed coming to AOL but I remain very grateful to Digital for teaching me all that they did.
Hope all is well and of course you always "got it" so you will do well. :)
Dudley Howe, firstname.lastname@example.org, 4/26/2002 --
I was cleaning out my office and came across your book ďAltaVista Search RevolutionĒ. It reminded me of my intention (now years old) to get in touch with you. So here I am.
I left Compaq about nine months ago and have been semi-retired since. It was getting pretty grim there. I was running corporate strategy and as a result, I had a good view into the future of the computer industry and of the company. The view was pretty bad and I decided that Iíd retire rather than spend the rest of my career laying good people off.
Iím living in Texas in a beautiful town outside of Houston called the Woodlands. The kids are both going to college locally and Katie has become a southern bell.
Iíve been doing some consulting, mostly focused on the Internet and telecommunications market.
Anyway, drop me a line and let me know how youíre doing. The time we all spent together in the Internet Business Group was the happiest of my career and I miss all those people. Iíve kept in touch with some of them and Iíd like to correspond with othersÖ so if you have contact info Iíd like to get a hold of it.
I've recently joined a consulting firm out of NJ called Taratec Development
Corp. as a senior consultant. I'll be opening the Boston office. Our primary
business is Biotech - providing computer systems validation and government
regulations consulting on 21CFR11. We also consult on knowledge management,
information management, LIMS (Laboratory Information Management Systems),
MES (Manufacturing Equipment Systems), and e-learning. If you know of anyone
who has experience in validations and government regulations, please have
them send me their resume as I will be hiring up to 10 people over the
summer to work in the greater Boston area.
Please pardon any inadvertent omissions or inaccuracies. In particular, I know I've missed the members of the engineering team who moved over to AltaVista in 1996. Please send corrections and additions to Richard at email@example.com. I'd especially appreciate information on where the alums are now and what they doing. (That's very sketchy at this point.) We'd also welcome comments and reminiscences of alums for inclusion here.
Selected members of the virtual team. While these folks were never official part of IBG, they played very important roles at the beginning, when few people inside and outside the company had a clue of the Internet and its potential. I'm sure there are many others who should be listed here. Please refresh my memory. Richard Seltzer firstname.lastname@example.org
Related discussion. After posting the first few responses here manually, I've migrated the followup discussion to forum space at SiteScape (formerly Digital's Workgroup WebForum) to allow more interaction. Please go to my space there -- Web business bootcamp -- to read them all and post your reactions. To post, click on Add, then Login, and, if it's your first time, Register. You might also want to check and react to some of the other material I've posted there.
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