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April 30, 1997updated 05 Sep 2016 1:10pm

1,000 DAYS THAT BUILT THE THE WEB: THE PEOPLE AND TECHNOLOGY

By CBR Staff Writer

From Computer Business Review, a sister publication.

October 13 1994: Exhausted but jubilant, the engineers held vigil the night it [the Netscape Navigator 1.0 browser] went up and somebody set up a big display screen to track the downloads as they happened. A few minutes went by, then the first connection was made. Everybody cheered. Then another download was logged, then a series in rapid succession and within an hour, the poor Silicon Graphics Inc machine they had conscripted as their server fell under a siege from which it never emerged. That moment at Netscape Communication Corp’s Mountain View headquarters was a watershed for the computer industry. On that day two and a half years ago the World Wide Web shed its obscure roots and was set on a course for ubiquity. Only six months later, it had attained an unstoppable momentum with literally thousands of software companies throwing themselves into developing applications and tools for the Net. By April 1995, Progressive Networks had launched RealAudio, for listening to Web sounds; by May, Sun Microsystems Inc had unveiled the Java programming language and, by September, Netscape was onto Navigator 2.0 with Java support built-in. By the end of the year. Architects of the Web: 1,000 days that Built the Future of Business by Robert Reid does a great job in capturing the excitement of that period. Reid, a former business alliances manager at Silicon Graphics and now a venture capitalist at 21st Century Internet Venture Partners, has used the principle that being first into a particular market is the best way to ensure dominance of it – in this case for histories of the Internet.

More soap opera than dry chronicle

Completed in December, this history book is so up to date and the subject matter so fluid that one feels follow-on chapters should be downloadable from the publisher’s Web site. But even at 360 pages the book’s structure is more soap opera than dry chronicle. Reid is smart enough to realise that people are most interested in the Web generation stars, and he bases each chapter around a different entrepreneur or engineer. All the big names are there, and a couple of more obscure ones: Marc Andreeson, co-founder of Netscape; Kim Polese, Java’s marketing ace while at Sun Microsystems and now chief executive of Webcasting hopeful Marimba Inc; Mark Pesce, originator of the virtual reality modeling language; Jerry Yang, co-founder of Web search engine company Yahoo Inc; and Andrew Anker, founder of the online magazine HotWired. The structure allows the author to explore the subject at a level that may be a little too deep for some, but which will enthral those on the inside of web technology development. The structure also makes each character’s story seem disconnected from the last, something that does not fit with the early days when the Internet community was very intimate. Whatever will happen to the web in the future is still an area of wild speculation, but something the author dishes out across many pages. Unfortunately, though, most of Reid’s observations are far from original and can be read in industry magazines every week. Almost two pages are devoted to the demise of the printed word, for instance, despite the irony of his chosen publishing medium and the fact that he draws heavily on well-known business and technology magazines as primary source material. Architects of the web could have been a great book of empires founded and kingdoms that floundered but, ultimately, the author is perhaps too close to his subject to be either objective or critical. The technology, the people, are always ‘way cool’. In fact, a digital version of the book would have been useful in counting just how many times the word cool was mentioned.

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