Can you scroll your brain back before wifi, smartphones and the App Store? Before the Intertubes, the Web, Google and Google Docs, back to a world of faxes, LANs, pagers, PBXes and early (too early) pen computers?
This talk will help you. In it, in 1991, I went to Lotus Development’s HQ in Cambridge to explain a research service I was just launching called Continuous Information Environments (CIE). Lotus (the makers of 1-2-3, then Lotus Notes) was already a client of our other services including the one I launched a few years prior called Intelligent Document Management (IDM), which was sparked into being by electronic imaging technology but avoided that topic like the plague because scanned documents stored on optical media were so, well… stupid. Oh, the company that hosted all of this research was New Science Associates (hi guys!), an unfriendly spinout from Gartner Group that was later acquired by Gartner.
There are many things to note in this talk aside from my shiny forehead, double-breasted suit and firmly gripped styrofoam coffee. For example, I’m using acetates to present on an overhead projector. Acetates. That blew my mind on watching this talk again. And I don’t mention the Internet until an hour and 24 minutes in, during the Q&A. It was still a locked-away military research network to most of us.
The first three and a half minutes of this talk I’m explaining New Science’s retainer research model, so jump past that if you want to get to the tech. I did get to boast that we were using Lotus Notes to distribute our research. We (New Science) were early with electronic publishing, alongside Patty Seybold’s Seybold Group. (When I joined Esther in 1992 I got to learn to use XyWrite and AMIX, the American Information eXchange, a horribly designed online publishing platform. Two steps backward.)
A few more observations with the benefit of hindsight. At the time:
- I was a big fan of pen computers, but a pen-less touch interface, the kind that is ubiquitous now, was not in my frame of reference.
- Most of my examples cited male bosses and colleagues. I learned some gender neutrality later.
- I laughed at thinking that a small device might have global positioning capabilities, an inexpensive commonplace now.
- Momenta, my favorite pen-computing startup of the moment, hadn’t blown up on the launch pad yet. (It dosn’t even merit a Wikipedia page; sniff!)
- At Momenta’s launch event, I sat next to Esther and gave her the CIE white paper. Then we swapped publications. Then (months later) she asked me to join her. I almost said no (thanks for the advice, Dan Miller!).
- So many company names have vanished into the memory hole!
- Faxes. Remember faxing?
- Our focus at New Science was helping corporations use technology wisely, hence so many examples grounded in call centers, insurance claims adjustment, etc. Our clients ran Advanced Technology Groups — back when that was still a thing.
- I forgot to bring a box of paper copies of our research reports with me. How 1990s!
- I thought pen computers would be everywhere in five years, so around 1996. The iPhone launched in 2006, with no pen. Sometimes advances take a while to gestate and catch on.
Enjoy some time-travel:
A footnote: When I launched the Intelligent Document Management service for New Science in 1990, I drew this diagram to explain it:
Prior to that moment, all the service brochures in our industry (retainer tech market research) were basically bullet points. Gartner, IDC, Forrester, BIS Cap, etc. From that moment forward, they went visual. Everyone needed a conceptual diagram.
And the diagram I use in the talk above is this one, for CIE:
Last word: if you squint while looking at both diagrams (and maybe sip some mezcal while doing so), you can see the outlines of the tech world we inhabit today.