Before Boston.com, the Globe’s intranet

How I launched the Boston Globe’s first Internet site (maybe)

Back in the early 1990s, I had a friend who was a doctoral student at MIT. He was buzzing one day at breakfast. “The Internet,” he enthused, “It’s amazing. You’ve got to check it out.” He described at great length how you could see what was on another person’s computer.

Silence, from me, over scrambled eggs. “Why would you want to do that?” I asked, befuddled.

Not long after that, Bob Murphy, a far-seeing IT exec at the Boston Globe, installed a PC with Internet access in the center of the newsroom. He could see the media tsunami that was coming, even if the newsroom was oblivious. But a handful of reporters were interested, at least— myself, David Armstrong, now at Bloomberg, and Aaron Zitner, now at the Wall Street Journal.

“What the hell is this all about? How big will it get?” asked a clearly skeptical editor.

“It will be bigger than TV,” I said, in a classic understatement.

A little while later I was tapped to start the paper’s first Internet site for the newsroom—an intranet site actually, although the word hadn’t been invented yet.

I bought a book, along the lines of, “How to Start an Internet site in Two Weeks.” With the help of the IT department, we quickly had a functioning site. It was launched a month or two before boston.com, the paper’s first official site. (So did I help start the the paper’s first Internet site? Does an intranet site count? Hmmm…)

It wasn’t pretty—mainly a mishmash of links that we thought reporters would find valuable—but it worked.

Of course, there was this nagging problem: barely anyone could see it. Armstrong and myself were the only two in the newsroom with PCs, out of hundreds of reporters and editors.

But that changed soon enough. Oh boy, did that change.

Matt Carroll works for the MIT Media Lab, where he runs the Future of News initiative. He can be followed @MattatMIT. He writes trashy-but-fun fiction under the name of Sean Patrix.

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