He didn’t use the term then, but Andrew Himes was one of the web’s first content strategists. Years before Bill Gates’ famous “Internet Tidal Wave” memo, Andrew and his co-founders at the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) were working on a proprietary hypertext document system, code-named Blackbird.
Then along came the web.
Andrew and his colleagues at MSDN were uniquely positioned to pioneer some of the very first enterprise-scale web content strategy. They had tons of digitized information – newsletters, code examples, etc. – published on CD-ROMs with Blackbird. They served a community of several hundred thousand tech-savvy readers around the globe. They had access to the best programmers. Andrew had already gone to school on Apple’s early Hypercard program and had worked on one of its successors, PowerCard, so he knew how to work in a hypertext environment. This confluence of a huge tech-savvy global audience, access to programming talent, a huge storehouse of digitized information, and familiarity with hypermedia led to the creation of what was likely the world’s first content management system.
Andrew Himes is a consultant for Carbon Innovations. Himes was founding editor of MacTech, the leading Apple technology journal, then co-founded the Microsoft Developer Network and led the first web development project at Microsoft. After leaving Microsoft, Himes became a nonprofit startup specialist before founding Charter for Compassion International. He produced the documentary “Voices in Wartime” and is the author of “The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family.”
Here’s the video version of our conversation:
[Not an actual transcript – just my quick notes on first listen-through]
0:00 – long-winded intro by yours truly . . .
1:30 – Andrew intro – one of several co-founders of MSDN – connect, learn, get software, SDKs, tech info, APIs, etc. – used to need a brother-in-law at MS to get that stuff – early SaaS – orig delivered on CD along with monthly newsletter, “MSDN News”
3:40 – his accidental introduction to the world of publishing for developers – Puget Sound Computer User – wrote about consumer software in early 1980s – learning as he went – local Apple user group + 25K in Apple coop – then Macintosh came out so Apple launched Mac mag – consumer mag – never went anywhere – started a software mag for Apple developers and he became, reluctantly, founding editor of MacTech magazine – once you have that job description, people talk to you as if you are an expert, even if you aren’t
6:20 – Apple launched Hypercard – shipped with every new Mac – he was fascinated – got into hypertext, other technologies that prepared him for web – brought that intense interest to MS
7:30 – 1993 – discovered web browser – immediately realized power of online publishing – over next couple of years MSDN launched online access via SAAS developer access to SDKs, sample code, advice, interaction, and online network – extraordinary learning experience for him – got to implement brand-new stuff
9:30 – from monthly paper newsletter – microsoft.com existed, but only content was random pieces of content, just random info – they wanted to build online application, but no tools yet, so created VBScript, Access database, and pointers to Word docs, converted to RTF and then to HTML, added home page – only tool he know of then – the first CMS? – yes, first database-driven, auto-built, structured set of documents –
12:25 – information architecture – an intense, sophisticated methodological group already in place at MS, working with SGML – only folks who knew about SGML were PhDs – they used SGML to create CD-ROM product with structured content – 600 MB of info – thousands of pages of content – created hieararchy and imported into Media View file – one big file on a CD-ROM – only worked with structured info and links between them – HTML was greatly simplified SGML – put those HTML files on server and connected to internet
15:50 – all stemmed from SGML – HTML was a DTD of SGML – MS had notion that they could create their own private version of the internet – a MS-controlled web – Blackbird – code name – his group built first Blackbird instantiation – at same time, HTML and web coming along
17:30 – MS exec, upon learning that his team working on both Blackbird and HTML versions, said “You’re overworking your team. You need to stop working on the WWW. Focus on Blackbird.” – they decided “That’s insane.” About 6 months before MS’s pivot to internet focus – they just published HTML without permission – got $2K budget for web icons
18:45 – MS did have a website, but only for developers at that point – they were only ones online then
19:15 – when MS pivoted to internet, his team was ready
19:50 – 380K MSDN subscribers issue #1 – within 2 years 4 million MSDN subscribers – today double or triple that
21:00 – any lessons about how to manage digital frenetic-ness in our lives? – we were remarkably idealistic and naive – not a bad thing – lots of cool stuff happens if you’re naive enough – his personal attitude was, It was an entirely revolutionary and positive thing – e.g. 1995 first start page for IE 1 – he wrote a column for start page – on future of internet – he wrote very first one – just after trip to Amsterdam, where he had visited Anne Frank house – moved by her story and her sensitivity and perceptions, her extraordinary view of the world – what if she had had a web page? a blog? – how might world have changed if she had been able to get word out? – way before term “going viral” had emerged, that article got thousands of engagements – now, 25 years later we see that not all web content supports democracy, human rights, transformation to opportunity and freedom – so brings us up to interesting moment in human history – make this power available to all? or just create little islands of people who think like us? use the power of the web to wall us off? – got any good examples?
26:50 – a project that he’s working – Carbon Smart Building initiative – greenhouse gases 40% come from built environment, building and operating buildings – transform built environment from existential threat to a net carbon sink – that is, instead of being the problem, the built environment can become part of the solution – goals: 1. high-performing buildings, 2. a completely clean grid, sustainable resources 3. refit existing buildings to be more efficient, 4. use carbon-storing materials in new buildings – a great use of the internet to collaborate to solve a big problem – a “collective impact initiative” – builders, re-fitters, supply chain, green building council, AIA, structural engineers, etc. – a massive problem, but way more solve-able with the internet
30:45 – wrap up