This month marks the 25th anniversary of a New York Times story titled A Free and Simple Computer Link. The article described a new software application called Mosaic that was developed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign‘s National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA).
For those who don’t remember it, Mosaic was the first multimedia web browser. It was not the first Internet communication technology, being preceded by a number of others including email, Gopher, FTP, WAIS, Telnet, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), UNIX Talk, MOOs, MUDs, and the text-only version of the web. But in many ways, Mosaic marked the beginning of the transition of the Internet from an academic and military tool into something woven into the fabric of virtually every aspect of our lives. Basically, when Mosaic launched the multimedia web, we all started getting on the Internet bandwagon… for better and for worse.
This article played an important role in my personal journey. In the fall of 1993, I was a senior at the University of Michigan majoring in history and with no real idea what I wanted to do with my life. I clipped this article during fall semester finals and over winter break spent many late night hours exploring the Internet. I was fascinated by the idea of hyperlinked knowledge spread across the globe. I knew almost immediately that I had to find a way to turn my newfound fascination into a career.
It was this article that led me to the nearby doors of the University of Michigan’s School of Information for a Master’s Degree. Prior to discovering the Internet, my career thinking had been to go work for a family friend who owned a company that manufactured and retailed premium home paints. Instead I started the graduate degree and I was off to a career of exciting, often unexpected, and (by and large) very positive twists and turns.
Although I had not even heard of the concept of Product Management in 1993, the subject of this article would also have a huge influence on that profession. Before the web, creating a software product was called “publishing software” because the final product was usually distributed on hard media like a CD. And in 1993, a networked software product would have probably referred to a locally installed piece of software that used direct dial-up through a modem to reach a remote service like AOL or Bloomberg.
But with the advent of the web, suddenly there was a universal platform where “anyone” could create, publish and regularly update software products that could were accessible to “anyone” globally. Once it became that much easier to distribute software products, there was suddenly a demand for many, many more product managers. For those of us in this profession, we all should collectively say thanks to Mosaic for creating the demand for our skills!
So on this 25th anniversary, I invite you to read this story and then take a few minutes to reflect on these questions:
- Where were you 25 years ago and what were you doing?
- How much has the Internet changed your life over the last 25 years?
- How has your awareness of and thinking about “products” as a distinct thing evolved over the last 25 years?
- What might the next 25 years hold in store for all of us?
Wishing you and those in your life a very happy and healthy New Year and 2019.
P.S. Some of you may recall that I posted a 20th anniversary version of this blog in 2013 on the BuiltInChicago website and earlier this month on LinkedIn and Medium. I’m hoping to make posting a version of this blog an every-5-year tradition.