Final Report
Sloan Project MouseSite

Principal Investigator: Tim Lenoir



This project aimed to construct a website that would engage the community of computer scientists and engineers who participated in the early developments of the field of human computer interaction in documenting and writing their own history. We focused on the work of Douglas C. Engelbart and the group of researchers who worked with him at Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, California from 1962 until the mid-1970s. Engelbart and his colleagues invented the computer mouse and hypertext, including in-file object addressing and linking, multiple windows with flexible view control, 2-dimensional display editing, networked collaboration using distributed shared resources, and a video channel for face-to-face collaborate work. The vision Engelbart and his group articulated was decades ahead of its time and has only been fully appreciated since the development of the Internet. Indeed, some of the innovations the group first demonstrated have yet to be incorporated in standard Internet technology. We aimed at documenting the formation of the vision and the specific contributions of individuals in the group to its technical realization. We also sought to elicit personal stories about their work that would reflect upon SRI culture and the San Francisco Bay Area during the turbulent 1960s.

Funding for this project began on January 1, 1997. In the months between January and June 1997, discussions took place with experts on best approaches to web and database design for the project, plans were made for building the site infrastructure, staff was hired, and equipment and software purchased to begin the project.

Ramping Up

Among the preliminary steps taken toward launching work on the MouseSite was contacting Doug Engelbart and gaining his support for the effort. I talked with him several times (four or five times in person in addition to several phone conversations) about the project, enlisting his support and participation, discussing ways to mount the project as a large-scale collaborative history project, and getting names and contact information of persons associated with the technological developments to be documented in the MouseSite. A listserve was created as a means of eliciting cooperation from the group and keeping them informed about the ongoing effort. In addition to personal contacts I participated in two public events to promote the project, one at Xerox PARC in March in which I moderated a panel discussion on the history of interactive computing with Doug and a large audience of interested persons. A number of valuable contacts were made at this event. The second was at the WWW6 conference in Santa Clara on April 6, 1997 where I conducted a pubic interview with Engelbart and a panel of several of the members of his original group as part of the history of the World Wide Web. This panel interview was taped and included as part of our archive.

Website Planning: Building A Community of Historical Actors

I had decided to build a website that addresses two main functions. I wanted to enlist the cooperation of the engineers and computer scientists who built the technologies associated with the mouse, hypertext, windowing, and networked collaborative work including videoconferencing. The strategy for initiating discussion with them was to begin with an "attractor site" consisting of a sufficiently rich set of documents, interviews, video and audio clips to engage their interest in adding to and wherever appropriate rectifying the historical record. We started by making available key documents from Engelbart's Augmenting Human Intellect project at SRI in the 1960s. The collection of historical documents covered the period from roughly 1961 through the first public demonstration of Engelbart's project at the Spring Joint Computer Conference held in San Francisco in 1968. This documentary base serves as resource for posing questions to the group in four online forums devoted to different thematic areas. The online forum format serves to elicit responses in the form of commentary, stories about the events of the period, or new documents that might become part of the historical record. These materials were added to our online database and eventually joined the large collection of materials related to Engelbart in Stanford Special Collections.

The rationale for developing an "attractor site" and interactive forums was based on my experience that the engineers in this community (like every other engineering community I know of) are not particularly moved to write about their involvement with earlier projects. Many of the alumni of the Engelbart project are themselves still very active in building technologies and new companies, and hence cannot easily devote time to writing about their work. Furthermore, because they are still active producers of technology, many are averse to participating in writing histories of their work. They are all looking to the future and continue to think about how their work can be leveraged to build that future. History for them is looking backward, and asking them to write about their past achievements can suggest they are no longer active participants in the technological revolution they helped to launch. Moreover, many have an aversion to discussing past events for fear of offending someone among their friends and former colleagues. In spite of these factors, however, these people are all extremely interested in having a historical record of their accomplishments, and they are particularly keen on setting the historical record straight.

In order to address these issues of participant history it seemed best to point to documents and events as a subject of discussion in a forum environment in order to elicit reactions from the group. The idea was to post an image, a video clip, or reference a passage from an archival document and solicit information from the group about the persons involved, the historical background and context. In addition narratives of events and claims made in already published historical work could be cited as a stimulus to expanding or correcting the record. The forum postings by the group would be indexed and stored in the database, eventually to be used in constructing a narrative history embedded within and drawing upon the database. The narrative history itself would be written by professional historians of the subject with the participation of the actors themselves. This participation might consist in contributions of particular parts of the narrative or reaction to the story as composed by the historians.

A second function I wanted the MouseSite to address was the construction of an authenticated stable digital resource for scholarly purposes. This aspect of building the archive is crucial to gaining the confidence of my historical subjects and their willingness to participate. The engineers and scientists I have worked with do not want to spend time contributing to a resource that is ephemeral and not recognized as an "official" legitimate archive. There are additional considerations to recommend building an archival source to emerging digital library standards. Having built numerous digital teaching and research resources to date, I have been particularly concerned to insure that whatever I put online is done to the documentary standards of the library community. I want to insure that my materials will be authenticated for other scholars to use as trustworthy resources for building their scholarship, and I want these materials to be supported in the future as the system of digital libraries evolves and changes. In addition, I have had considerable experience with putting materials in a digital form and using them for teaching purposes and for my own personal scholarship. But the resources required to maintain these documents and to put them into formats capable of being searched in systematic ways, such as SGML, that render them more useful to the wide spectrum of other scholarly resources and electronic libraries far exceeds the resources available to me as a normal academic. An additional essential feature of the documentary support base for such projects is the requirement that they be stored in a powerful multimedia databasing system, such as Sybase or Oracle. Further complications arise when we want to incorporate video into the database. The size and utility of a digital collection are substantially constrained and limited by the database structures it incorporates. Most resources we find on the web today are "hand built," more or less hard-wired in the sense that any future modification requires a human to go in and re-code something. Such resources have value primarily for the persons who built them, but are not capable of being multi-purposed and made serviceable to a spectrum of publics.

For these reasons I have regarded it essential to the MouseSite project and to each of the other Sloan STIM projects to make alliances and local arrangements with the library communities at the universities where our projects will be housed. When the project ends, we want each of these five resources to be picked up and maintained (and hopefully expanded) by the local libraries where they are being constructed. Creating the basis for this cooperation has entailed making contacts with the appropriate library persons and encouraging them to support our initiative by assisting us in preparing our materials to meet their documentary standards. This was a time-consuming task in the early phase (January-July), but it was successfully achieved at Stanford and at Berkeley, where the libraries in both places contributed personnel and considerable resources to mounting, storing, and formatting our materials. I believe the foundation for a future larger-scale collaboration between Stanford and Berkeley in documenting the history of high technology in the Bay Area has begun and will continue as a result of the Sloan project. Efforts at UCLA and MIT were less successful, but encouraging developments are occurring at both of these institutions as the STIM project winds down. The door has been opened in both places for future developments in the history of recent science and technology. There were clear reasons for the different degrees of success in these different institutions having to do with the previous history of personal connections of the principal investigators of the projects to their local support networks, including such matters as how much AFS space is allotted to a tenured faculty at different institutions.

Building the Site

The core set of documents for the attractor site was selected from the Engelbart Collection of Stanford Special Collections, which consists of more than 300 boxes of documents, video, and data tapes. I went through the collection identifying documents from boxes 1-17 of the collection covering the period 1960-1968. I subsequently added some documents dating as late as 1975. In addition to these materials in Stanford Special Collections, I obtained from Doug Engelbart the beta-version videotape of the original 90-minute demo of the NLS system in 1968, including the mouse and other features described above. I had this tape digitally mastered by a professional video service in San Francisco, converted it to streaming video, mounted it in several (37) annotated segments on a Stanford video server, and linked it into the Mousesite. I also obtained many hours of video footage from Doug Engelbart relating to the 1968 demo, several other public presentations of his system, and discussion of the work in TV documentaries, such as the very important Silicon Valley Boomtown , broadcast by San Jose public broadcasting station KTEH in 1988, where Engelbart is interviewed and characterized as a forgotten visionary. I created Quicktime clips of much of this footage and it is stored in our digital archive for use in the forums. In addition to the video, the core document set contained technical reports, correspondence, a variety of conference programs, memoranda and reports of meetings, such as the ARPA planning session for ARPANET, and a small collection of images. The documents were all scanned, ocr-ed, edited, and put into html. Documents too fragile to treat in this way or which contained annotations that would be lost were scanned as gif or jpeg files embedded in an html page. A digital copy of the entire Stanford Special Collections Finding Aid for the Engelbart collection was included so that people could see the titles and descriptions of documents not included in the Mousesite, and links were created that enabled users to request additional documents to be added. A table of contents of the documents in the Mousesite was provided, and brief abstracts were given for each entry in the table of contents. The entire collection of documents was indexed with metatags according to the categories for digital documents established by the "Dublin Core" convention. This data was used to enable a full content search engine which was designed by the STIM core staff (see Coleman's discussion above).

In addition to original archival documents from the Engelbart Collection, I included additional resources for situating Engelbart's work, such as Vannevar Bush's important article "As We May Think," J.C. Licklider's article on human computer symbiosis, and other similar texts. Engelbart cites these documents in his technical reports and indicates they influenced his thinking. Such documentation provides useful references for posing queries in the forums about related work and influences. Documents like these also aid actors in recalling the timeline of important events and meetings.

An additional feature of the Archive was its inclusion of links to other related websites, such as a valuable website constructed by a Xerox PARC scientist on the Xerox Star computer, which was the first commercial system to incorporate many of the features of Engelbart's system. Negotiations were also undertaken with the author of this site to house it in Stanford Special Collections in the Silicon Valley Project and Mousesite in order to preserve it for future users.

A considerable amount of discussion and debate took place among STIM PIs and the core team about the style of the web interface for each of our projects. I favored building a site with visual interest in spite of the (at that time) longer loading times for persons accessing the site from telephone modems. My reasoning was that, at least in the case of the engineers documented in the Mousesite who were key figures in building the internet, one could expect higher bandwidth connections to be available. Moreover, it was already clear that midway through the project 56K connections were going to be routine and most interested users would have computers running processors of more than 100mhz. I thought the presence of a more professional looking website would encourage our target group to participate more readily. The Mousesite was designed by me and my assistant, Rosemary Rogers, from the History of Science Program at Stanford.

Interactivity and Participation


The main goal of this project was to experiment with productive forms of interactivity. My sense was that to stimulate contributions to the site would require more than advertising on the web, bulletin boards and newsgroups. The Mousesite was addressed primarily to two levels of potential contributors: a) original members of the Engelbart group and their progeny at places such as Xerox PARC, and b) interested and informed people who were not part of the original group, but who were aware of their work and contributed to other aspects of the development of human-computer interaction. I was also interested in allowing the general public to comment as well, although decisions about inclusion of their contributions was on a case-by-case basis. A number of the original members of the Engelbart group are now at retirement age, but many are still extremely active. Indeed many are at the heights of their careers running very large companies. Jeff Rulifson, for instance is a central figure at SUN Microsystems, and after leading the design team for the Nintendo64 chip at Silicon Graphics, Charles Irby (a second generation, post-1968 demo participant) has recently gone on to build a new startup. Getting particpation from such persons required personal contact and follow-up reminders. Accordingly, I assembled addresses of all known alumni of the Engelbart group and sent messages to all of them encouraging their participation.

In order to collect focused information as opposed to general reflections, I organized the site in terms of several forums, each with its own capability for submission activity by users. The forums are on topics related to "persons," "devices," "context," and "culture." The postings from the forum on "persons," for instance, are collected and used to construct individual biographies and career trajectories of the group members. These biographies in turn become part of the digital archival collection. Each forum was run for three weeks, followed by a new topic suggested by the previous input or an entirely new topic posed by me. Contributors to the forum were able to post a message response to the general question posed, and in addition provisions were made to attach files of many sorts, such as PDF-files, video, audio files, etc. These were managed by the STIM site administrator. Contributors were able to see what they had contributed, and with the forum system we implemented were able to view a threaded conversation of other submissions. When a new message thread was added to an existing message, an email notification was automatically generated to the person whose message had been commented upon. In this way I hoped to facilitate sustained participation of our target group rather than single visits to the site. I hoped that at the conclusion of the project a semi-automated system could be put in place that would catalog, sort, and store new contributions in the archive with automatic updates on tables of contents viewable through our site and through the Stanford University Library Catalog interface. This has turned out not to be feasible at this time. The way it actually works is that newly acquired comments and contributed files are cataloged and indexed by the Mousesite site manager, Alex Pang, who was hired by Stanford University Libraries and by the Program in Science, Technology, and Society to manage the digital collections I have been engaged in creating.


Launching the Website and Initial Responses:

The site was launched on November 5, 1997, at the 35th Anniversary celebration of the Mouse at SRI in Menlo Park. The audience for that occasion was about 500 persons from the computer community, including many members of the Engelbart group. The site was briefly introduced by Doug Engelbart as part of the evening's event and he encouraged his friends to contribute.

The initial responses of the audience were encouraging indeed. One of our first responses was from Charles Irby, an original member of the group. He submitted the slides he used for his presentation at the November 5 celebration. These are a very valuable resource, since many of our documents relate to points he discussed. A video of the talk was also made, and it has become part of our material collection as well. Other participants, such as Bill English, Jeff Rulifson, and Harvey Lehtman, agreed to contribute material as well, but to date their contributions have been minimal. Reasons for this will be discussed below.

Responses to the forums were quite enthusiastic and the contributions valuable additions. For example, a forum on "Persons" included a photograph related to the backstage operations of the famous 1968 demo. We asked "who are these people and what are they doing?" We received many responses to this from Engelbart group members. The most valuable response was not from a group member but from Don Nielsen, who was the director of SRI at the time of the Engelbart project and head of SRI for many years. His field is artificial intelligence. Nielsen identified all the figures in the image for us and provided much useful additional information. The forum on "devices" has also received valuable postings. Most people today have never heard of the chord keyset which was an original component along with the mouse and keyboard of the NLS system. An initial posting of an image of the chord keyset and questions about its use and reason for disappearance produced several excellent responses by members of the group. Several valuable responses to issues of culture within the group also generated some excellent material.

Outcomes: Surprises, Successes, and Outreach

The conclusion I have drawn from this experiment is that it was in large part extremely successful. The use of the forums has proven to be a useful and valuable means for engaging a community of scientists and engineers. They are interested in participating in the documentation of their history and they are willing to respond to calls for material. I could have done even more in the way of using forums to generate new material. The problem was one of time and resources rather than a failure to achieve the goals of project. Because it was necessary to change the forum topics regularly, almost constant site maintenance was required, and having already devoted about six months of my time to scanning, editing, designing, etc. the site, I could not personally devote additional time to maintaining the site. My assistant, Rosemary Rogers, did quite a lot in this regard as the webmaster for the site, but running the forums requires someone with background in the field and an interest in collecting the history. I hope that we can continue this project in the future with the new person, Alex Pang, hired as the manager of my Silicon Valley Project who is indeed a historian of science and technology eager to seize the opportunity.

We had intended to use the web not only to pose forum questions to our target group but to collect new archival material, and we built capabilities for receiving and indexing a variety of file types to accommodate this. As it turns out most of the persons in the target group do not still have files from the period to submit. In fact most of them never did, because their work was literally embedded in the NLS system and its databases. This entire system continues to exist, but accessing it would require translating the old (and rapidly deteriorating) DAT tapes to a Sun Ultrasparc station emulator of the original system. Price estimates on doing this made it impossible to accomplish with the resources of the STIM project, which in any case were intended for web collection.

Moreover, very few of the target group could be encouraged to write autobiographically about their experiences. Instead they preferred to participate in focus-group interviews in which they would reminisce about particular events. We conducted and taped several such sessions and we will eventually convert these videotapes to streaming video. The big surprise to me was that focus-group interviews rather than web submission of stories or documents is what these creators of the technologies that launched the Internet really wanted to participate in.

As soon as these preferences of the community became apparent, I made an outreach effort to encourage the use of the web for collaborative history. Together with Michael Keller, the Director of Stanford University Libraries, and Paul Saffo, Director of the Institute for the Future, I organized a reunion of the Englebart group at Stanford on December 9, 1998, the 30 th anniversary of the mouse. Engelbart and his colleagues were not interested in an event that only reminisced about past events; they wanted a gathering that would address the unfinished business of the vision they articulated. With this in mind we organized a birthday party for the mouse and called it Engelbart's Unfinished Revolution. We raised funds from Silicon Valley companies for this event. It was an all-day celebration, the first half of which was devoted to focus-group panels and talks by figures who were participants. The afternoon was devoted to discussions of the future of Engelbart's vision. The event was advertised only on the Internet. Participants included the alumni of the Engelbart group, Alan Kay, Marc Andreesen, Stewart Brand, Jaron Lanier, several prominent journalists and many others from a "Who's Who" list of Silicon Valley. This was the single most successful event I have ever been associated with, near to a spiritual happening. Sixteen hundred persons from the computer industry filled the largest auditorium at Stanford. There was not a vacant seat in the house from 8:30 AM until 6 PM. The all-day event was televised and Cisco Systems contributed its new technology for realtime conversion of a television signal to streaming video. About 900 persons were logged onto the streaming video throughout the day. The entire event was captured and is now part of the Mousesite, accessible through the "Archive." The event made national news coverage, including the ABC and CBS Nightly News, and it was even mentioned on the Howard Stern Show, for reasons that completely escape me. There was heavy press coverage in the local press, such as the San Jose Mercury News, and significant pieces were included in Wired online and in Salon, an online magazine. Interestingly, the event was not covered by the Stanford Daily.

We used this event to advertise the Mousesite and encourage people to contribute. This has produced some striking contributions. A major contribution has been the image archive that went live on the site earlier this fall. Unfortunately that material was not submitted to us over the web. It is a collection of more than 1000 photographs of people at work in the Engelbart project. These were taken in the 1960s and 1970s and were not in digital form. I had these images scanned professionally and saved to archival quality cd-roms to become part of the Engelbart collection. A large sample of these images is now in the Mousesite Gallery. Several members of the Engelbart group have used the web to identify who these individuals are and in many cases what happened to them. Much more work will be needed to add biographical information to these individuals, but this is an encouraging result in line with the goals of the project.

The deposition of a large image collection is only one of the outcomes of the stimulus of the December 9 th event. Inspired by Don Nielsen, former SRI Director mentioned above, the original creators of the ARPANET wanted to put together a similar but non-public event that would bring their group together to discuss the development of the net. They were particularly concerned to correct what they view as errors in the historical record that have arisen through the large interest in the subject by historians and journalists following the explosion of the Internet. We facilitated this event, videotaped and edited it, and gathered considerable documentation from these individuals that expands the record on this important piece of the history of the web. We are still in the final stages of wrapping up that project and it will be linked in with the Mousesite.

Another similar project spawned by the December 9 th outreach event has been an oral history project on the early days of the AI community at Stanford and SRI similar to the ARPANET project.

Finally the Engelbart group itself was inspired by the event to continue the focus-group discussions in a seminar-like format. Due to the interest in this topic on the part of the Bay Area community, the Stanford Channel is broadcasting a weekly live television/webcast with Doug and friends with an invited audience of participants. The Mousesite and the Unfinished Revolution are being used as resources for this live webcast. The show is being captured in streaming video and will also be part of the Mousesite.

Outreach within the History of Science and Technology Community

I have made presentations of the STIM project and the Mousesite at numerous conferences, including a keynote presentation delivered at the international meeting of the Research Library Group in London on May 5, 1998, an international meeting on issues connected with doing research on contemporary science held in Copenhagen, August 23-25, 1998, the annual meetings of the History of Science Society in November 1999. I have given invited lectures on the project at several universities, including Cornell and University of Minnesota, and I presented a lecture series on the project in Brazil in June 1997. The general reaction to the project has been enthusiastic and very supportive, although I do not see many other historians signing up to do this kind of work. I have also used the Mousesite in a course I taught at Stanford and simultaneously at Georgia Tech using IP videoconferencing in the spring of 1999. This was the first use of IP videoconferencing at Stanford. The course has drawn considerable attention.

Awards

The Mousesite has received awards from StudyWeb, one of the Internet's premier sites for educational resources for students and teachers. It was also selected by the Tech Museum of Innovation in Silicon Valley as one of the TechTop10 technology and science web sites for middle-school and above students, teachers, and parents; and by Philadelphia's Seven Wonders Site of the Day; and by Bonus.com as in the top 5% of educationally useful websites.