Archive for the 'history of computers' Category

Jul 03 2013

Remembering Douglas Engelbart

Published by under history of computers

Doug Engelbart showing his invention, the computer mouse

Doug Engelbart, at his 80th birthday party, showing the world’s first mouse on his dining room table.  Copyright Tom Munnecke.

It is with great sadness that I heard of the passing of Doug Engelbart, one of the true computer visionaries of the twentieth century. His memory brings back a flood of thoughts and emotions, of our many long sessions talking about technology and how to introduce technology change into society.

First mouse

Touching the world’s first mouse, at Doug Englebart’s 80th birthday party.

Although best known as the “inventor of the mouse,” he had much broader a much broader vision of how we interact with computers.

Although I new of his work since the 1970’s I first met him during while I was a visiting scholar at Stanford, in Sep. 2002.  I was giving a presentation about how systems scale and the “integration crunch.”  I saw this older gentleman in the audience, and by the time I finished my lecture, I noticed his eyes glistening with tears.  It turned out to be Doug, brought to the meeting by my friend Jack Park.  He said something to the effect that I had been a success in getting my technological ideas adopted, while he had been a failure.  Coming from the “guy who invented the mouse,” this was quite a statement.   We talked excitedly the rest of the afternoon, then went to a restaurant and continued talking excitedly until sometime after 10.  I said I had a flight to catch the next morning, and he asked to meet some more before my flight.

It’s hard to recall what we talked about 11 years ago, but the general theme was the he had a very large and encompassing vision for how we can use computers and communication to augment human intelligence.  At the same time, he seemed depressed that the only idea of his scheme that really took off was the mouse.  He complained that he would go to conferences, get standing ovations for his work with the mouse, but nobody ever took his other work seriously.

For example, he wanted the mouse to also have a “chording keyboard,” 5 buttons that could be pressed in combination to replace the standard keyboard.  He insisted that this was a necessary technology to move on to the other features of his system.  Unfortunately, the world has adopted the QWERTY keyboard, and this was a bridge too far.

He invented a version of an open hypertext system that preceded Tim Berners-Lee’s (re)invention of the web 20+ years later.   One of the key differences was that Doug’s approach required bi-directional referential integrity.  If A pointed to B, then B had to also point back to A.  Tim relaxed this restriction, allowing broken pointers, and the “404 not found” error.  Doug’s version was brittle (the same as Ted Nelson’s Xandu project, another hypertext system of the era).  If A changed, then B would also have to change, as well.  This would lead to an “n-squared” complexity problem – the complexity of keeping all the links synchronized would increase with the square of the number of nodes in the network.  Tim’s approach was delightfully pragmatic.  He realized that the value unleashed by allowing “good enough” linkages would far outweigh the disadvantages of specifying the “perfect” linkage model.  This distinction between being architectural “perfect” vs being “good enough” has reverberated in my thinking now for several decades.

Here are some of my notes I made after our first meeting:

1. Problems scale, yet our ability to generate solutions does not
2. We need to increase our collective IQ when working together in groups.
3. Networked Improvement Communities (NICs) and Meta NICs
4. His orientation to tools development, rather than application development. He focuses on tools for developing tools.
5. Facilitated evolution of technologies and organizations. The organization and the technology co-evolve in an upward spiral. The role of the visionary is to inject the next generation technology, one step ahead of the organization.
6. Adapt how to adapt – relates to his tools thinking.
7. Open Hyperdocument System (OHS) as infrastructure… good basic idea, but the web is rushing into this area anyway.
8. Hyperscope as tool for browsing the OHS… interesting, very similar to my earlier design ideas about a “HealthSpace browser” to browse a patient’s “HealthSpace”

He told me that he first got interested in this topic as a radar operator in the Korean War.  Looking at the graphical display of a radar, he wondered how he could represent computer information in a similar manner.  This lead him to windows, icons, mouse, cursor design with which we are all familiar with today.  But he saw the system as a “space” not a collection of “interfaced pieces.”  I noticed the same orientation towards spatial thinking in talking with Tim Berners-Lee in the early days of the web: it was a “space” for information to exist.  Similarly, the Wiki is a space for collecting pages.  (See my conversation with Wiki Inventor Ward Cunningham).  I had long thought that the next generation of Electronic Health Records should designed as an information space, not a collection of pieces.  He has given me valuable, enduring insights into how systems can work.

I suppose my most enduring memory of Doug is how he took a notion of “space” from a radar screen and translated it into an “information space” metaphor that billions of people use thousands of times per day.

Tom Munnecke holding first mouse


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Jan 24 2013

Mr. Cook, Tear Down Those Walls! – an open letter to Apple

Published by under history of computers

Dear Mr. Cook,

I’m sure that Apple is going through a lot of turmoil with the release of your recent results and 10% drop in share price.  I used to be a very enthusiastic Apple customer, feeling that I was getting value for my money, even with the higher prices I paid for your products.

However, this has changed in the past few years.  I’m not getting quality, I’m getting fleeced.  Where I used to feel that Apple was opening me to a new realm of creativity and innovation, now I feel that you are trying to lock me up inside the walls of your walled garden.

I used to trust you as a partner in my activities, thinking that the future would get better as your engineers improved you software and products.  Now, I cringe when I see new software announced, wondering what capabilities you are going to be taking away from me, and what intrusive software you will be shoving down my throat.

Companies are supposed to give value to their customers in exchange for their purchases.  Apple has somehow forgotten that basic business premise.  Instead you have been taking things away from us.  Here are just a sample of the things you have taken away: (I won’t even mention Google Maps):

  1. I used to be able to take time lapse photos, import them into Quicktime 7, and produce a movie.  I could do “quick and dirty” editing of the movie and pass it on quickly and easily.  You took away this capability in the current Quicktime,  so now I have to keep two versions around.
  2. I moved to Apple in 2006 after extreme frustration using Windows to do video editing.  I made a huge investment in Apple’s Final Cut Pro, buying the hardware and software to run it, as well as learning how to edit movies.  My local Apple store was a huge help with this, giving me hands-on training in Final Cut Pro with a really talented editor/Apple trainer.  However, when you moved to Final Cut Pro X, you made all of my prior work obsolete. I have spent hundreds of hours sorting my family movies into FCP bins and sequences that are simply not compatible with FCP X.
  3. I have been using a Mac Pro desktop machine for my editing, based on Snow Leopard.  I had been holding off installing Lion, waiting to see if I wanted to move to Mountain Lion.  The day you announced Mountain Lion, you dropped the availability of Lion.  I am now caught in a catch 22 situation of incompatible hardware, software, and hours of video editing.

I’ve decided to move away from Apple products because of this continuing stream of customer-hostile actions you have forcing on me.  I don’t want to buy a separate printer to print from IOS devices, nor do I want to be locked into iCloud or iTunes for information exchange.

I don’t want to be locked in to your walled garden, and your disappointing sales report proves that others feel like me.  The same social networking effect that drove IOS upwards can drive it downwards, as customers flee from your oppressive and arrogant tactics.

I would hope that Apple can recover by returning to basic competitive principles of delivering value for money.   Customers need to look forward to new products as introducing new value, not just part of a shrinking  platform of planned obsolescence.

Here’s hoping.  But in the meantime, I’m moving away from Apple products…


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Jan 06 2013

Chuck Hagel – One of the Fathers of VistA

220px-Chuck_Hagel_official_photoI am pleased to read that Chuck Hagel has been nominated to the position of Secretary of Defense.  He was the Deputy Director of the VA when I worked for the Loma Linda VA Hospital, working on what would become the VistA Electronic Health Record System, one of the largest and most successful EHRs.  Starting with very humble beginnings as a “skunkworks”, Chuck played a key role in helping to evolve our early back room prototypes into a VA-wide electronic health record that has won many awards and accolades by physicians.

I was part of the small group of programmers hired by Ted O’Neill to develop a decentralized hospital computer system.  This caused huge tensions with the central data processing folks, who wanted to centralize everything in a massive computer in Austin, Texas.

VistA blazed many trails in health IT.  It was the first to integrate SMTP email (I worked directly with internet pioneer Jon Postel, writing one of the first SMTP servers.)  We used what would today would be called Agile Development, starting with a prototype that was “good enough” and getting it into the hands of real users – the more feedback, the better.  We pioneered Open Systems thinking, making our software public domain and collaborating with Indian Health Service, DoD, National Health Service in Finland, and others.  We pioneered social networking/digital conferencing with VA FORUM, which at one time, supported 50,000 VA employees, all learning/teaching about the system, submitting bug reports, and just plain communicating with each other (a rare circumstance in mega-bureaucracies)

The centralists told upper VA management that our decentralized system would never work, but when then chief medical director Don Custis, MD saw the system actually being used, he quipped, “It looks like we have an underground railroad here.”  Nancy Tomich, editor of US Medicine at the time, described this event.

I took this as a sign that we should name our group the Underground Railroad.  I printed business cards, and started holding banquets to honor people who had made major contributions to the effort.  We had two awards: the Joseph T. O’Neill Outstanding Engineering Achievement award for technical folks (who we called Hardhats) and The Unlimited Free Passage on the Underground for the non-hardhats who helped our cause.

Here is a copy of the award I gave Chuck Hagel when he was deputy director of the VA:

Chuck Hagel UFP

Chuck went on to leverage the immense prestige of this award to become a US Senator, and now, nominee for Secretary of Defense.  He probably cherishes this as much as being designated an Admiral of the Great State of Nebraska.

Congressman Sonny Montgomery, then Chairman of the Committee on Veterans Affairs,  praised Chuck’s efforts in this Nov 5, 1984 letter to the Underground Railroad banquet:

Underground Railroad Members and Guests
Blackie’s House of Beef
1717 22nd Street, N. w.
Washington, D. c. 20817
Dear Friends:

On the occasion of your annual Underground Railroad Banquet, may I take this opportunity to send my greeting to you, and to shares ome of my thoughts concerning the Veterans’ Administration Decentralized Hospital Computer Program system with you.

As you know, the Committee and I fully supported Chuck Hagel’s decentralized ADP plan when he announced it in March of 1982 during his tenure as the VA Deputy Administrator. After Chuck left the VA, the plan, which relied heavily on the resources of the Underground Railroad, was derailed and appeared to be approaching its demise.

In order to get it back on track, I wrote a strong letter to the Administrator, and solicited the help of Chairman Boland of the HUD-Independent Agencies Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations. Subsequently, the Congress provided the funds and the VA, with the outstanding assistance of the Underground Railroad, performed a near miracle in bringing the largest health care system in the western world into the present day ADP world!
You, as members of the Underground Railroad, can take great pride in your outstanding accomplishment. The task required great dedication and unselfish personal effort. Regrettably, it resulted in some very calamitous casualties along the way. The job is not over, and I know that all of you will continue in your efforts to make this system the finest medical ADP system in the world. I pledge to you that I will continue my unwavering support of your important work and will maintain close oversight of all activities here in Washington and in the field to ensure that our mutual goal is met.

I recall Chuck as being very intelligent and charismatic, and a natural-born leader.  I thank him for his role in shaping the VistA system, and his vision in supporting the unknown “skunkworks” out of which VistA sprang.

And Chuck: if you are reading this, there is no expiration date on this certificate.  If you need the help of the Underground Railroad to help straighten out the VA/DoD EHR mess, we’re ready to help.  I figure we could save the DoD $10 billion or so.  And if the code we wrote back then might have aged a bit, I think that the principles we espoused are even more current in today’s federal health IT environment.

And an Open Source VistA community is alive and thriving.  The VistA Community Meeting is happening this month in California, and  OSEHRA (Open Source Electronic Health Record Agent) is actively supporting open source VistA.




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Dec 02 2012

The World Wide Web Consortium Dec. 18, 1994

Published by under history of computers

I have been following the World Wide Web since there were only 150 web sites, and I’d get a breathless email each time someone put up a new on.  18 years ago this month, I was fortunate to attend the inaugural meeting of the World Wide Web Consortium at MIT.  I wrote about this meeting in a column I wrote for the San Diego Daily Transcript called “Web Watch.” It’s kind of amazing what has happened in the intervening years.  Here is a copy of the column:

The World Wide Web Consortium Dec. 18, 1994

Cambridge, Ma.  There are times when you know that you are in the right place at the right time.  This happened to me last week in Boston.  I attended the first meeting of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) at the Laboratory of Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  The meeting was a small gathering (by Internet standards) of  about 50 companies interested in the standardization and growth of the World Wide Web (WWW).

Tim Berners-Lee is the technical director of the consortium.  While he was at  CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics in Geneva, he invented a technology to allow physicists around the world to share scientific information.  As the WWW grew far beyond its roots in Physics, he moved to MIT, where he is directing the international consortium.

WWW data communications traffic is now growing at the rate of one percent PER DAY. This is an amazing growth rate, and all indications are that we are still in the early stages of growth:

  • The designer of one of the largest on-line services providers announced that they were halting further development of their proprietary user interface.  They will convert to publicly available web browsers, such as Mosaic or Netscape.  The 350 computers which are currently running their proprietary network are being transformed into a secure World Wide Web system.
  • One of the world’s largest scientific publishers said that they were working on a way of distributing their information to libraries directly on the World Wide Web.  On line readers of material could follow citations by a simple click of a mouse.  Readers could communicate with the authors or other readers through on-line discussion groups.
  • Several companies were working on electronic marketing systems, for the creation of virtual shopping malls.  Others were working on electronic book technology.
  • MIT demonstrated a research project called Galaxy, which allows the user to speak questions in English, Japanese, or other languages, and receive spoken responses.  It is not unreasonable to imagine a future when we can communicate with the WWW with spoken commands instead of a keyboard.

This late breaking technology traces back to an article first written by Vannevar Bush.  In “As We May Think,” published in the April 11, 1945 issue of Atlantic Monthly, he discussed a system called Memex:

“Wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready-made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified.  The lawyer has at his touch the associated opinions and decisions of his whole experience, and of the experience of friends and authorities.  The patent attorney has on call the millions of issued patents, with familiar trails to every point of his client’s interest.  The physician, puzzled by its patient’s reactions, strikes the trail established in studying an earlier similar case, and runs rapidly through analogous case histories, with side references to the classics for the pertinent anatomy and histology.”

Replace Bush’s “mesh” with “web”, “associative trails” with “links”, “memex” with “browser” and we have a fairly current description of what the WWW can do.

I wanted to verify what I had heard about Bush’s paper.  From my home computer I connected via telephone to the Internet.  (60 seconds).  I clicked on the Netscape “Search” button, and found the Lycos index supported by Carnegie Mellon University (15 seconds).  I typed in “Vannevar Bush”, and Lycos searched an index of over 1 million pages (20 seconds).  I clicked on the first item on the list, and a photo of Bush followed by the text of his article appeared on my screen.  Vannevar would have been proud.

Tim Berners-Lee is an appropriate heir to this vision.  A visionary in his own right, he responds with quick wit and intuition on matters of the web.  The difference between Bush and Berners-Lee, however, is that Berners-Lee has the technology and the engineering ability to make his vision a reality.

He has the respect of the consortium, which he will be able to influence using the “raised eyebrow” method of management.  Issues which violate his sense of conceptual integrity will be met with a skeptical raised eyebrow.

The information age is causing dramatic changes in the fabric of our society.  The World Wide Web is the right technology in the right place at the right time to lead the way.


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Jun 03 2012

Conversation with Bob Frankston, co-inventor of the spreadsheet about complexity and health care

This is a video of a conversation I had with Bob Frankston , co-inventor of the spreadsheet in Newton, MA. on May 17, 2012. Off camera is Yaneer Bar-Yam , director of the New England Complex Systems Institute  and Joanne S. Luciano  of the Tetherless World Constellation at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Andy Oram of O’Reilly Media.

My summary, such as it is, starts around minute 30:00

Here is a similar conversation with Ward Cunningham, inventor of the Wiki.


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Jun 02 2012

Some historical VA/DoD papers

From the initial 1978 Oklahoma City VA/DoD/IHS meeting, we had envisioned a government-wide health information system, based on shared, open source software.  Things went well for the VA, and we deployed a nation-wide system starting in 1983.  Things looked bright for a while for DoD use, as we installed a shared system at March AFB in Riverside, CA. connected to Loma Linda VA hospital.  Congressman Sonny Montgomery got wind of the effort, and supported it to the hilt.  DoD didn’t like the idea – spending more money on consultants to make it look bad than they did to try out the system to see if it worked.

Here are some papers I’ve scanned in that relate to some of the early history of VA/DoD sharing.

Despite these being nearly 30 years old, the issues they talk about are pretty much current – just part of a never-ending story about VA-DoD integration efforts.


1985 munnecke overview of DHCP to TRIMIS Program Office

1984 Oct 10 Congressional Record authorizing DHCP as competitor in CHCS

1984 oct 4 montgomery letter to weinberger re DoD use of VA software

1984 nov 5 montgomery letter to Underground Railroad

1986 Anon letter to DOD Inspector General re alleged conflicts of interest in CHCS

1985 first VA DoD email message exchange at March AFB

1984 MITRE report on Utilization of VA software in the TRIMIS program

1984 Octo Barnett responds to MITRE report on DoD methodology

1985 munnecke email re ADL dirty tricks

1997 US Medicine article by tom From DHCP to Vision for Change

1978 Tom Munnecke’s Original DHCP FileMan and Kernel design notes at OK City kickoff meeting

1985 Munnecke Occams Razor alive and well into VA

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May 24 2012

My 1978 paper “A Linguistic Comparision of MUMPS and Cobol”

Here is a paper summarizing some of my original thoughts about MUMPS as a general symbol-processing interpretive language that integrates data and program, and COBOL, as a rigid, predefined language that splits data and program into two different domains.  I presented this at the 1980 AFIPS Fall Joint Computer Conference in Anaheim, Ca.

Linguistic Comparison of MUMPS and COBOL

The concepts I present in this paper became key attributes of what is now called the VistA electronic health record system.

Unfortunately, despite the success of these concepts, they are threatened by the next generation health record systems, which pretty much reverts to the conceptual models that have descended from the COBOL model I describe.


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May 15 2012

My Webinar “What worked in VistA?” May 11, 2012

Published by under history of computers,VistA

I was delighted to present a webinar about my experiences in the design of VistA:  “What Worked, and How do we do more of it?”  Here is a recording of the session.   Thanks to the VistA Extensions Network and Fabian Lopez for hosting it, and Open Health News for announcing it.

I think that it is really critical to take a hard look at lessons learned over the years.  Not as an absolute guide to the future, but at least as a guide for understanding the present.

I’m not trying to be nostalgic, but rather convey a sense of the decisions we made back then, and why.  And, maybe, keep future designers from making the same mistakes.



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May 06 2012

Octo Barnett’s Classic Comments on the DoD requirements process

Published by under history of computers,VistA

If I had to name the folks who had the most influence on my career development, I would have to name Dr. Octo Barnett, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Laboratory of Computer Science.  Out of his laboratory came the MUMPS computer language, designed specifically for medical information processing,

Here is his 1984 paper 1984 Octo Barnett responds to MITRE report on DoD methodology that takes DoD to task for the way they try to define a hospital information based on the requirements process.   Some tidbits from his paper (I’ll do a full write up later):

He stresses adaptability, flexibility, user involvement, robustness…

In some cases… the requirements are nothing more than vague wish lists… it is even more difficult to understand how DoD could systematically evaluate to what extent the delivered system fulfilled the requirements”

When I worked on the original CHCS proposal effort at SAIC, I had to demonstrate how the software conformed to list of about 150 requirements.  One requirement was that the system should recover from a power failure within 30 minutes, which was a really crucial thing in a hospital.  Another was that the system should be able to ring a bell on the line printer.  (Line printers were a throwback to the batch processing days of old; the requirements also defined card punch procedures, even though we weren’t using cards any more.

The day of reckoning came, and we had DoD, GAO, congressional staffers, and my own management looking over my shoulder as we worked our way through the requirements.  I sweat blood making sure we met the 30 min recovery time requirement, and everyone accepted the demonstrations without any questions or concerns.   We moved on to the bell on the line printer requirement.  I sent a bell code to the printer, but nothing happened.  I tried again, still no bell sound.  Eyebrows were raised; the room went silent as it looked like I might fail this requirement – which was as significant as showing that the system could recover from a power failure.

It was nearly lunch time, so I suggested everyone come back after lunch while we called Digital and asked the Maynard engineers what was going on.  I think we solved the problem by plugging the printer into a different port.  Everyone came back from lunch, I rang the bell, all breathed a sigh of relief, and we were off for the other 148 other requirements for the day.  It was kind of we were all in a puppet show, going through the motions, with no one understanding what was going on.

The more I read the DoD requirements, the more I find that the “emperor has no clothes,”

He goes on to talk about “gold plated” DoD requirements, while explaining the the DHCP system is just a simple beginning.  The question is whether the system can evolve.

The fundamental principle of the VA strategy is that the user community must have an important role in the shaping of their information system, and must have an important role in the evolution of the system over time.  The TRIMIS strategy ignores this user involvement and makes an assumption that the vendor can supply the information system in a well-wrapped package that can easily be fitted into the hospital operations.   I believe that the highest priority should be given to testing these two different strategies in the DOD environment….. what we do know is that this strategy has been associated with an impressive set of functioning medical information subsystems on a very limited budget and with much greater user involvement that appears possible with totally vendor created information systems.

Unfortunately, this parallel test never happened.  While DoD accepted the DHCP software (or was forced to accept by the financial realities of the bidding process), they rejected the idea of user involvement, open source (public domain) software, and shared development with the VA.  This was due to intedepartmental turf wars as well ideological chasms between DoD’s “waterfall” requirements-based design vs. VA’s evolutionary design, starting with “good enough” and moving forward in response to user involvement.






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May 04 2012

Some history of Confer and MailMan

Published by under history of computers,VistA

When I came to the VA in 1978 at the Loma Linda VA hospital to work on what would come to be known as VistA, my first impression was that the VA was suffering from a “failure to communicate.”  The hierarchies and bureaucratic turf wars were inhibiting communication.   Based on my own experiences in learning German, and my studies in linguistics, I became an enthusiastic supporter of how language affects thought, and sought to create a speech community for people to talk about health.
I happened to have a telephone system that was capable of conferencing in 6 lines simultaneously, so every monday morning at 10AM, I would dial in the other members of the original “Hardhat” gang that was developing the software.  I’d call George Timson in San Francisco, Wally Fort and Cameron Schlehuber in Salt Lake City, Joe Tatarczuk in Albany, Bob Lushene in Bay Pines, Richard Davis in Lexington, and others who would often add others to the conference call.  This worked well, and coupled with face to face meetings, allowed us to communicate.
However, this had some drawbacks:
1.  It wasn’t scalable.  There were just so many folks who could be networked together.
2.  It was synchronous.  Everyone had to be at their phone at the same time.
3.  The conversation was single-threaded.  We could only talk about one thing at a time.
I began to look around to see what I could do to improve the situation, and discovered a digital conferencing system being worked on my Robert Parnes at Wayne State University called Confer II.  It allowed multiple users to communicate in threaded messages via dial up terminals.  We tried it for a bit, but at $10/hr, it was prohibitively expensive.
I had a chance to meet Bob when he came to San Diego in 1981 or 1982.  I was living in Riverside, near Loma Linda, which was in a hot desert climate.  So coming down to the ocean in San Diego was a great pleasure.  We drove up the coast, and ended up having lunch at the Beach House restaurant in Cardif by the Sea.
We had a delightful 3 hour lunch conversation which crystallized my thinking about the need for a community teleconferencing system.  Bob was generous with his time, knowing that he was helping me “fork” from his Confer software, but he was pleased to see the idea spreading.  (At least that is my recollection of the conversation.)   The difference was that I was embedding these ideas into the kernel of the VistA system, an integral part of the rest of the clinical applications.  I just wanted people to be able to communicate.  I wanted folks to be able to build a community around a topic, not just according to predefined structures, and I wanted that community to be able to see and control who else was on the thread.
This became the core user interface model I built into MailMan (Note that this is not the Python-based MailMan list manager)
About the same time, Larry Brilliant and Stewart Brand were adopting Confer for use in the WELL, an early online virtual community software.
Ed Vielmetti sent me some background material on the early days of Confer:
This page has my 1985-era experience of Confer described pretty well:
and this one goes back a little bit further, to 1982:
The ur-text is the conferences themselves, which are in the Karl Zinn papers at the U of Michigan Bentley library:
of which is noted:
The CONFER Sessions subseries is comprised of paper printouts from a subset of computer-based conferences that ran on the University of Michigan mainframe computing system (Michigan Terminal System) from 1975 to 1994. These were printed by Zinn, and are indicative of his involvement and interests. This subseries provides an informative view of the introduction, evolution and use of a new technology designed specifically to support computer-based communications. The subseries includes RP.CONFER the original conference that utilized the CONFER I application program; student administered conferences; conferences used to supplement class discussion; and a series of conferences designed for the International Science and Technology Assessment Congress held in Ann Arbor in 1976.

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