Online Before the Internet, Part 2:
Early Pioneers Tell Their Stories
by Susanne Bjørner • Bjørner & Associates
C. Ardito • Ardito Information & Research,
1 of this series, published in the June 2003
issue of Searcher, Roger Summit (Dialog), Carlos
Cuadra (ORBIT), and Dick Kollin (Pandex, Magazine Index,
Telebase, and EasyNet) described the initiation of the
ORBIT Search Service at System Development Corporation,
the beginnings of DIALOG at Lockheed, factors that encouraged
and discouraged the development of these systems, and
the early wave of online. In this segment of "Online Before
the Internet," their April 2000 discussion is continued,
focusing on the addition of databases, marketing, and
building the industry, commercial and government enterprises,
and competition. They begin by recalling the role of COSATI
in expanding awareness among government agencies of the
possibilities of online.
Cuadra: COSATI was the Committee on Scientific
and Technical Information.
Summit: In 1968, COSATI invited several online
systems to demonstrate to the government, using a
segment of the Department of Defense database, called
the COSATI Inventory. That was a key milestone in
that it constituted a survey of off-the-shelf, interactive
data-handling systems of the day. We demonstrated
DIALOG, and Dick Giering demonstrated Data Corporation's
Data Central System (it later became Mead Data Central
and led to LexisNexis). Other systems demonstrated
were Computer Corporation of America's Model 103 system
and Lucid from System Development Corporation. I actually
have a video of the film COSATI produced from these
Cuadra: There was another one called OBAR
(Ohio Bar Association).
Summit: OBAR came a little later. At this
time, Giering wasn't involved in legal databases.
We competed with Data Central for the licensing and
offering of Psychological Abstracts and other things
this was later on, but before OBAR.
You say you competed with Mead Data Central
for Psychological Abstracts and other databases. Did
you also compete against each other for databases?
Summit: I don't remember the SDC conflict
or competition as much as I do the Mead. They went
for the NTIS database and we went for the NTIS database;
we got it. NTIS wouldn't award its database to both
because a lot of hand-holding was required. NTIS wanted
to have just one contractor. The same thing was true
with ERIC. I recall that Data Corporation tried to
get ERIC and couldn't, because it was already available
Cuadra: By 1972, ERIC had become available
Summit: Then Data Corporation got Psych Abstracts
and offered a service on Psych Abstracts for a while.
We took Psych Abstracts away from them later on because
of a requirement Data Central couldn't meet, which
led to the invention of our sorting algorithm. Psych
Abs wanted to be able to sort records in real time,
and Data Central couldn't do that. It was a race for
I remember meeting with a fellow named Bill Knox,
the head of NTIS, who complained to me about all these
databases we were putting up maybe three or
four at the time!
It was almost like a mentoring session. "Roger,"
he said, "if you don't know what business you're in,
you won't be in any business at all."
Bill Knox thought you were being too diverse
with the different subjects?
Summit: Yes, too diverse. We had ERIC, we
had science, and we had government. That was Knox's
advice: "If you don't know what business you're in,
you won't be in any business at all. You should pick
an area and stick to it." I considered his suggestion,
but not for very long. It really was a race to get
databases. Each database brought in new customers
who in turn used existing databases kind of
a push/pull phenomenon.
You were trying to expand the customer base.
Summit: You bet.
Cuadra: It wasn't as though we were hopping
around. The chemistry database was related to the
petroleum literature and Petroleum Abstracts. Petroleum
Abstracts was related to other databases. As you captured
some users for a given database, you thought, "Okay,
what else would they like?"
Did you do detailed analysis on the overlap,
or did you guess?
Cuadra: We didn't have enough data to do
real analysis. We relied on the customers. We'd say,
"What else do you read; what else do you use?" They
would say, "We spin these tapes, and if we could get
that online it would be wonderful."
Dialog-SDC Competition Heats Up
Summit: Carlos locked up Chemical Abstracts
(CA Condensates) and American Petroleum Institute
(API). Dialog could get CA, but Ev Brenner of API
would never give us their database. I had all sorts
of arguments with him, but he never would do it. I
had a programmer on CA Condensates, but he couldn't
figure out how to convert the database to put it online.
He wasted 2 years. That put us way behind.
Cuadra: That's the one my son did in 2 weeks.
Summit: I remember thinking, "Boy, SDC really
has an edge on us in chemistry." I remember how much
we wanted to get CA Condensates. We also wanted MEDLINE.
We worked and worked and worked and worked, and finally
we got MEDLINE online. The other database that we
had to have was Derwent World Patents Index. I met
with Monty Hyams again and again and again over the
years. Every time, Monty said, "Oh, we're working
with Carlos and SDC and we're so happy with him. Why
should we break that exclusive? Carlos tells me they
need to keep their exclusive in order to stay in business,
and I like Carlos."
Cuadra: From never having seen the NTIS database
or a document, we got the tape, and it was on the
air in a month. This is when Robert Landau was trying
to shut down his online service business. The Derwent
file took probably eight or nine months, partly because
it was a very complex database. Our joke around SDC
was, "We wish to hell Roger had gotten it." He probably
put up 12 databases during the time that we were trapped
with the World Patents Index.
Summit: We finally got it in the late 1980s.
At his invitation, I visited Monty and stayed at his
beach cottage. We played snooker most of the weekend,
and he beat me every time. As a result of the weekend,
though, we signed an agreement, and I convinced him
to license the Derwent World Patents Index database
Cuadra: He's very competitive. The thing
you probably didn't know about him is that he's a
real kidder. When we were loading the database, we
would have various kinds of catastrophes. It took
8 hours to load each segment, and our computer center
guys would decide, "It's 4:15; let's go home." So
they'd shut things off, and 7 hours and 45 minutes
of load were dead. The next day I had to tell Monty
Hyams that there would be a delay, and he would fire
off these terribly insulting, "I can't conceive of
what kind of incompetence" letters. Years later, I
learned that he and Mike Brooks, his second-in-command,
would sit around laughing as they composed these messages.
While I was treating them with all seriousness, Monty
was having fun with us.
As we were finishing the last load, a big lightning
storm struck Santa Monica. It blew the computer off
the air, and we couldn't complete the load. I had
committed to give Monty the data that day, but I had
to give him one of my usual malfunction reports, "You'd
never guess what happened...." Fortunately, the Los
Angeles Times came out that day with a large photograph
showing a lightning bolt hitting a building. I mailed
it to Monty as fast as I could, so that he would at
last think we were credible.
Summit: We were really glad to get the database,
but glad to be second. It was very important to us.
Carlos used to say, "Whenever Dialog loads a database,
we can see it in our bottom line."
Did you encounter each other at meetings?
How did you interact? Did you share information?
Were you friends from the beginning?
Cuadra: I'd say yes and no. We were competing
for market share and for databases, but at the professional
level. At panels and meetings, we voiced the very
same message, promoting the use of online services.
Summit: That's right.
Cuadra: So did staff from NLM. So did a guy
named Bob Landau, from Battelle; he was omnipresent.
There were a lot of people who were promoting online
services. Although we knew we were competing, we were
in no sense enemies. We were trying to promote the
Kollin: Bullshit! They were enemies.
Cuadra: Not so, but we definitely competed.
I always thought Roger, in his talks, exaggerated
what Dialog was doing. I'm sure he thought the same
of me. We were educating and also trying to get some
marketing in sideways.
Marketing: Dueling Pianos
Summit: Even if we were competing, we still
had fun together at various times.
Both Carlos and I attended the First East-West Online
Conference in Moscow in October 1989. I was a little
nervous, as you had to go through many lines and inspections.
Here we were, coming into the country, standing in
line, waiting to get passport clearance. Carlos had
gone through earlier, and was outside a wire fence
that separated us from the rest. We were just about
to talk with the inspection agent, when Carlos walked
by and said, "Oh, my God, that's Roger Summit! What's
he doing here? I wouldn't have recognized him with
Carlos is an excellent piano player. One time, when
we were having a Dialog reception in some hotel, this
man wandered up in full face mask and sat down and
started to casually play the piano. I didn't know
that Carlos was in town. His piano playing was so
awful I was about to ask him to leave but I suspected,
somehow, that it was Carlos, and I went along with
Cuadra: No, you didn't. We played a duet,
and you told me later you didn't know it was me. My
invitation came from two of Roger's staff members,
Betty Davis and Betty Unruh. They didn't know what
our feelings were toward each other, but they knew
I played the piano. They were planning this event,
and it wasn't a business meeting, so they thought
it was OK. But they didn't tell Roger, just in case,
so he couldn't say no. I decided to come in disguise
and bought this mask, and I practiced playing the
piano for 3 weeks to play rotten.
Summit: That's right. It was really rotten
Cuadra: I had to practice with the mask because
I could barely breathe in it. The holes were not large
enough, so I had to learn how to breathe shallowly.
I learned how to play without syncopation, old tunes
like "Daisy, Daisy." I really played awful. Someone
later told me that Greg Payne [developer of ABI/INFORM]
said, "You know, I'd swear that's Carlos, but he doesn't
play that badly."
Summit: We played in a duet at that International
Cuadra: Yes. I think we were very civil,
Summit: We were. The basis for that was we
were trying to help the industry. I don't know if
we ever had a conversation along those lines, but
I'm sure we thought about it a lot. We didn't want
to cut each other down, because then you would be
cutting the industry. Our bigger job was to build
the industry and then decide whether and how to get
Summit: We heard of another trick Carlos'
customer services pulled. Sometimes a Dialog customer
intending to lodge a complaint accidentally dialed
the SDC number. When this happened, SDC's customer
service people would reply something like, "Yes, we
are awful people. I wish you would switch to another
service and stop bothering us with your calls."
Cuadra: I don't remember that!
Summit: It was something like that. Maybe
I don't remember it exactly right.
Cuadra: Roger is not as loose-headed as I
am. He was a more serious person, and he didn't smile
a lot. There was a universal perception that he was
a serious, serious person. We were at a conference
once about information services, and it was a terribly
dull day. We were standing around at cocktail hour.
Some of us were talking about customer services, and
I said, "Yes, sometimes we get a call, and we'll answer
'Dialog' and then ('an expletive') and then hang up."
I watched Roger's face closely while I was telling
this story, and for a split second he didn't know
I was kidding. It was the most marvelous split second....
Charlie Bourne quotes you, Roger, as saying, "Carlos
had a trick." I think it had to do with searching,
but that wasn't my best trick. My best trick came
when I discovered there were some people who were
afraid of the terminal and the computer. They thought
they could do some damage, or they didn't want to
be embarrassed. But what can go wrong if you hit the
wrong key? So I would start practically every demo
to a new group by turning my back to the terminal
and I'd just hit random keys. Then ORBIT would echo
back what I'd typed and say, "No postings." Then I
would say, "I've done that to show you that you can't
make a mistake, you can't do any damage, you can't
hurt the computer, you can't hurt the data," etc.
It was very useful, kind of dramatic.
Summit: You had several effective tricks. I remember
Carlos came up to me one time and said, "You know,
you really picked a good name for your service. Every
time I'm sitting in a meeting and somebody uses the
word dialogue in conversation, I cringe because the
word is used as a generic."
How did you convince customers to use one system
Cuadra: We were very poor at competitive
intelligence. We didn't subscribe to Dialog; we didn't
try to get their user manuals or do the kinds of things
that modern business people do. I'm probably not a
good modern business person. To this day, when we
see a library automation package that someone has
written, one staff member will say, "Why don't we
get a copy and see what it does?" We say, "No, we
will never look at anyone else's code." Maybe this
is a stupid moral judgment...that you do your own
thing, and you don't worry terribly much about what
the other guys are doing.
Our existing customers were the best source of additional
income. They used online, they knew who we were, they
had success. As for the rest of the great unwashed
public, we could go out and try to find customers,
but that was hard work, to turn them from no customer
into a customer.
Summit: That was the hard one.
Cuadra: The staff members of our companies
were kindred spirits. They knew whom they worked for,
and they were competing when they were side-by-side
or across the aisle in a booth. On a personal basis,
the competition didn't carry over. Judy Wanger of
our staff reminded me that she and Betty Davis of
Dialog were at a real dog of a conference in Alaska.
Nothing was happening, so they shut down their exhibits
and went off to look at glaciers together. They spent
a wonderful day sightseeing.
Kollin: Roger and Carlos were close.
Summit: And Dick and I were close.
Cuadra: That's right.
Summit: So Dick played us both.
Cuadra: The Dialog staff members knew we
liked buttons. They would come over to us and say,
"May we have some buttons?" We had one that said "Go
Into Orbit!" We asked "Why don't you put the button
on?" And they said, "Roger would kill us!"
Tell us more about the conferences. You said
before that you felt excluded at some of the early
Summit: That was way back in the 1960s, and
excluded was probably the wrong word. I wasn't part
of the inner circle. But then later, toward the end
of the 1970s, and I'm sure the same was true of Carlos,
we got invited to speak. Then, I didn't go to a conference
unless I was speaking.
Cuadra: Roger Bilboul invented the International
Online Meeting, which was probably the first world
meeting focused on online information retrieval, and
brought in the Europeans.
Summit: He was Dialog's European representative.
To characterize the competition early on, neither
of us really knew if this online thing was going to
amount to anything, but we felt it would, and we had
our own programs.
The Database Race Continues
Summit: In terms of convincing database suppliers
to go with us rather than somebody else they
didn't even know about the other folks. One of the
greatest commercial coups that we got was INSPEC
it was called Science Abstracts at the time. I felt
that if we could get Science Abstracts, that would
really give us a steppingstone into the library community.
Around 1973, I remember getting a 5-year exclusive
on INSPEC. Once you start down a path, that leads
to other things. We got the National Agricultural
Library (NAL) database and that led us to want the
Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux (CAB) database,
because they complemented each other. I wanted CAS;
I wanted CA Condensates in the worst way, and Petroleum
Cuadra: There's a wonderful story associated
with Roger getting the contract for NAL. Judy Wanger
and I went to NAL to give the ORBIT demo to Tom Crawford,
who was at NAL at the time. We accessed our computer
in California to do a bunch of searches for NAL. I
think we did all of them successfully except for one,
which was on eggs. We came out one record short of
what Dialog had found. We couldn't make sense out
of it. We had the same database, we were doing everything
the same. The one difference was that we had created
something called the Basic Index. The Basic Index
carries all the content words of articles so that
you don't have to say, "I want eggs in the title field,"
or "eggs in the abstract field." You just say "eggs,"
and it searches those fields that carry content. Well,
it turns out that in the NAL database there was a
Journal of Eggs. Dialog didn't follow our practice,
so when they searched for "eggs," they found that
document we couldn't find because we were not searching
the journal name field. It was a technical difference
in the way we thought about the systems.
Summit: And the design.
Cuadra: In our case, we started with folks
that had highly structured data, like the National
Library of Medicine's MeSH vocabulary, where you don't
say "heart," you say "cardiac." I think Roger dealt
with some databases that were much more free in their
What were you calling this industry at
Cuadra: Online bibliographic retrieval or
Summit: Online information retrieval. All
of those. I didn't use bibliographic; I just said
How did you pick the names Dialog and ORBIT?
Summit: The name for the system, "Dialog,"
occurred to me in 1966. My wife Ginger and I were
driving to Portland to visit her parents. Ginger was
driving, we were talking to our daughter Jennifer
in the back seat, and I was dictating a project plan
for the system into a small, voice-activated tape
recorder. We were trying to think of a name. The system
was interactive between humans and the machine. The
searcher would kind of say to the machine, "This is
what I want," and the machine in effect replied, "This
is what I have for you." So we decided to call it
"Dialog." That was it!
I'd love to find that tape. Jennifer, whose crying
could be heard on the tape, is now a professor at
Cuadra: The programmers who wrote the very
first version of ORBIT gave it its name. In SDC documents,
it was referred to both as Online Retrieval
of Bibliographic Text and Online
Retrieval of Bibliographic Information
Time-shared. When it was time for us to name
the PL-1 successor to ORBIT, I solicited names from
my staff and we voted to keep the name. We couldn't
think of anything better.
BRS Enters the Industry
You've talked about the cordial competition
between Dialog and Orbit. What was the relationship
with BRS (Bibliographic Retrieval Services), which
started commercial service in 1977?
Was there any relationship?
That's how you both feel?
Cuadra: Jan Egeland is a very smart person.
Summit: Very strong.
Cuadra: Very smart, very capable. The BRS
service started with the State University of New York
and federal funding and then, when that funding disappeared,
they had to go commercial. They decided, because of
the way they got computer time, that they would offer
unlimited use for a fixed fee. They took advantage
of that to pooh-pooh the people that charged by the
inch, the taxi meter folks.
Summit: They advertised a fixed price, unlimited
use charge, but in small print, they indicated there
was also a charge for royalties, and this charge was
an hourly charge.
Cuadra: Their advertising said something
like, "Look, Dialog and SDC charge $50 an hour. We
charge only $25 an hour, plus royalties."
Summit: Yes, something like that. That's
Cuadra: We regarded that as an unethical
way to sell their service. BRS also had a user group.
I'm sure they listened to them, and it was helpful,
but they used it to say, "The difference between us
and them is that we care about our users...."
Summit: ...they engendered this non-commercial
feeling. "We're a cooperative,"...that's what it was...kind
of a non-profit cooperative atmosphere.
Cuadra: "We're for you."
Summit: And they said, "We're only going
to deal in biomedical literature, we're not going
to spread all over the place." When I saw that, I
said, "Bullshit," because the way the business goes,
you can't do that. Sure enough, bingo, bingo, bingo,
they started getting our databases. The same thing
happened with Chemical Abstracts Service and CA Online.
The Chem Abs people also said, "We're just going to
do chemistry," and then all of a sudden, there was
STN, which grew into a diverse database offering.
It sounds like the two of you viewed BRS as
but you didn't view each other as competitors.
Cuadra: We saw ourselves as fierce competitors.
Summit: Yes, we did as well, but BRS had
a different agenda. They were doing this "We're a
non-profit cooperative" thing, and, "We're giving
everything back to the customers." That wasn't true.
As Carlos just indicated, they were as competitive
in every way as we were, but they were representing
themselves differently. I think that's what bothered
Another thing with BRS is that they didn't use their
own software. SDC developed software. We at Lockheed
developed software. BRS went out and bought the IBM/STAIRS
Cuadra: But later, BRS rewrote the software
completely, in fact, converting it into a different
language. I said, "Aren't you going to get caught?
You're stealing stuff." And I think it was Ron Quake
who said to me, "Big companies don't sue little companies."
Summit: There is another anecdote regarding
BRS. I had a visit from Heinz Ochsner and Ramon Renaldo
in about 1978. They asked to license the Dialog software
because they wanted to start an information retrieval
business in Europe. I said, "No." We had a long conversation,
but I said, "No, no, no." Dialog dominated Europe at
that time, and there was no way that we wanted to have
another competitor. So they went to BRS and negotiated
to get the BRS software, either in its STAIRS form,
or if it had been rewritten, in the BRS form, and set
up Data-Star. Ron Quake played a rather neat trick on
them. He would not license the source code for the software;
he only licensed them the object code. As a result,
Data-Star never could upgrade or modify its software
like the rest of us did. Every time the other guy did
something good, we'd put it in. They were really stymied
for a long time with the BRS STAIRS software.
Government vs. Commercial
Cuadra: There's one thing to add to that.
In 1972 or so, SDC sued the National Library of Medicine
on two counts. One was to get the MEDLINE database
under the Freedom of Information Act. The case was
thrown out of court on the basis that the Freedom
of Information Act was really about documents
government data on tape didn't count. It was a stupid
decision, but at the time, who thought?
The other lawsuit was about NLM taking ORBIT and
claiming they owned it. ORBIT was written by SDC.
NLM paid us to add three commands, which we did, and
then we gave them the rights to use the software for
MEDLINE. But NLM said, "Now we have this, we can give
it to anyone we like, we can sell it." We said, "No,
you can use it for yourselves, but you can't go into
business and kill us." So there was a big lawsuit
lasting for several years; it went to the Supreme
Court. There was a four-to-four tie. Since the Court
of Appeals had ruled for NLM, that's how the suit
The important thing here, apropos of BRS's cleverness,
was that the lawsuit in effect froze MEDLINE search
technology for the next 25 years. Marty Cummings of
NLM said, "Boy, I can hardly wait until I get Carlos
Cuadra on the witness stand." We were persona non
grata at NLM. It was the president of SDC that
decided, not me, but in effect, it froze NLM, and
they didn't participate in the improvement of online
retrieval technology for 25 years except for
the addition of the Grateful Med front end in the
late 1980s, and now PubMed that's available on the
Web. To me, that lawsuit, with its aftermath, was
a major historical event.
Summit: I also went after MEDLINE like you
can't imagine. I had Excerpta Medica, then I wanted
to get MEDLINE. I talked with Marty Cummings and other
guys, and they had every reason in the world not to
give us the database. I think they were defending
their turf, namely their own system. They probably
had a qualitative argument as well, in terms of all
the training they did. They required 3 weeks of training
to become a MEDLARS searcher.
Cuadra: They wanted to be in business, not
Summit: Yes, they wanted to be in business.
The same thing was true with the NASA database. We
could not get that to offer even the unclassified,
unrestricted distribution part because Van
Wente wanted to be in business. These government agencies,
once they established their fiefdoms, just didn't
want to have competition from commerce in spite of
the President's A-76 Memo that says if industry can
do it, then government shouldn't do it; if government
has to do it, then they should not disadvantage industry.
Cuadra: The Information Industry Association
took the A-76 Memo to heart and put a lot of pressure
on the government, but those agencies wanted to be
in business, and they wormed their way out.
Summit: They did. All the way through.
Pioneers and Innovators
What other players, in addition to database
producers and online systems people, were important
in creating this industry?
Summit: Telecommunications Tymshare.
Packet switching Tymnet.
As an aside, we signed up for Tymnet in order to
get packet switch telecommunications around the U.S.
Turns out that Tymnet was an international service
bureau, and they'd set their network up to include
Europe in their timesharing. As a result, if you were
in Europe and you knew the right password, you could
hook directly into Dialog by way of Tymnet. Such use
was not tariffed then, so searching didn't cost anything.
For a time in the early 1970s, it was cheaper to use
Dialog in Europe than it was in the U.S. This gave
us an edge in building up a core of overseas customers.
We stayed with that lead for years and years.
Cuadra: I made a list of the important people
and factors, and communications companies that provided
low-cost, reliable communication were important.
My number one on the list is those agencies
such as NLM, NASA, and the Office of Education
that funded some of the early research, or just tried
it out. My third group includes the opinion leaders
who caught on. At the top of the list is a Finn named
Sauli Laitinen. Sauli caught onto the promise of online
and gave talks and demonstrations. He was using online
even though it cost $70 an hour in communications
time to get from Finland to Los Angeles. Sauli was
a true believer and proselytized. The test of his
effectiveness was that at one time we had 30 to 40
users (companies and organizations) in Finland and
zero in Germany. Sauli and some of the other folks
that didn't have colossal information resources caught
on to the fact that by using online tools, they could
be as good as the Library of Congress, the University
of California, and all those who had tremendous resources.
I also remember some people at MankatoState College
in Minnesota; they put in an online service at least
3 years before the University of California (my alma
mater) put in their first terminal.
The need was there, right?
Cuadra: They caught on.
Summit: Recognition was the key. They all
had the need.
I would add Jeff Pemberton and his wife Jenny
they developed the first ONLINE magazine and
conferences in the U.S. We must include Mel Day at
NASA, who, with Mortimer Taube (Uniterm Index concept),
was responsible for developing one of the first dual-purpose,
computer-readable databases: NASA STAR. Dual-purpose
in that it was used directly for generating the NASA
STAR print catalog and as the source for early
information retrieval. He was also in overall charge
of the NASA/RECON development.
Cuadra: Regarding people who aided the industry,
I have a ton of names. The people that promoted NASA/RECON.
Three people at NLM: Ruth Davis, Davis McCarn, and
Joe Leiter. Dick Giering of Mead Data Central. Jerry
Rubin of Lexis.
Summit: Yes, Dick Giering is a special person
because he really designed and programmed the Mead
system; he invented the world's first full-text access,
interactive database system. We all duplicated his
feature of proximity searching, a feature I may not
have included except for the persuasiveness of Mark
Radwin, one of our genius-level staff.
Dick is brilliant. When Jerry Rubin came along
Jerry is an attorney he refocused the company
on the legal business and later added Nexis for news.
Would you consider Jerry Rubin the creator of
Summit: I'm not sure, but Dick deserves some
of the credit. Lexis was launched in 1973, and, I
believe, was merely a database added with heavy promotion
under the auspices of the Ohio Bar Association (OBAR)
to the Data Central system that Dick conceived and
Cuadra: Let me mention other important names.
Irwin Pizer of SUNY Biomedical Communication Network;
Jan Egeland, BRS. Lee Burchinal, U.S. Office of Education.
Eugene Garfield, ISI. Jeff Pemberton, Online. Fred
Kilgour, OCLC, the first library utility, where the
concept of using the same computer, not for searching
Summit: ...Shared cataloging system. Kilgour
came out to visit us in the early days and we gave
him a Dialog demonstration. He said, "You've done
everything I was planning to do," in terms of extending
Bjørner: I heard Kilgour
speak many years later at an ASIS meeting in Boston;
essentially, he spoke about putting tables of contents
of books on OCLC at that time; that's all happened
Cuadra: I don't know a specific name, but
the people at Chemical Abstracts Service, who were
involved in automating their processes. They got some
money from the National Science Foundation and created
a factory, a very, very efficient factory.
Summit: It was the head of their computer
operations business, Ron Wiggington, whom I credit
Cuadra: I'd list Bob Katter of SDC, who was
the head of ORBIT programming; he worked for me but
he did the dirty work. Also, Judy Wanger, whom I once
referred to in a meeting, and she's never forgiven
me, as the world's oldest living online trainer. A
most infelicitous way to say it, but she was out there
before anyone else with this clunk, clunk, clunk Teletype,
showing people online services.
Summit: Internally, I had some superstars
as well. The first hero was Ken Lew. He adeptly programmed
in assembly code to fit Dialog into a 40K RAM computer
(IBM 360/40). Without his skills, there may never
have been a Dialog.
Kollin: Ed Parker and Fran Spigai.
Summit: That's right. Ed was in charge of
SPIRES development at Stanford. Fran was one of our
best early marketing people, who with Bob Donati on
the East Coast, brought in and supported the customers.
Cuadra: Roger Bilboul of Learned Information,
for starting the International Online conferences.
Helen Brownson of the National Science Foundation.
She funded a fair amount of research, and she provided
the money that enabled us to start the Annual Review
of Information Science and Technology [ARIST].
I don't know their names, but the inventors of TCP/IP,
which derailed IBM SNA and led to the Internet. There
would be no Internet without TCP/IP. To me, Paul Zurkowski
of the Information Industry Association was important.
I also list the people who created BASIS and Battelle's
online service, but I don't know who they are. And
the inventors of packet switching networks.
Summit: A fellow named Larry Roberts is in
there somewhere associated with packet-switching.
Cuadra: Yes, I would think so. And then,
the people in the library profession tons of
them who literally reinvented themselves on
the job, and moved from being the custodians of dusty
stuff to the people who did research and helped market
Summit: Their names are legion.
Were there any that stand out?
Cuadra: Bill Stanley of Standard Oil in Illinois.
Margaret Graham, Barbara Lawrence, and Ben Weil, all
at Exxon. Don Hawkins at AT&T. The Don Hawkinses
of the world were like our sales agents. They popularized
it within the organization and took risks. And gave
papers, saying, "This really works."
Summit: I would add Martha Williams. She
was a strong supporter who wrote and spoke prolifically.
Margie Hlava was very active in promoting online searching
and supporting online through leadership in the library
and information professional associations.
Kollin: Henriette Avram.
Cuadra: I'm not sure whether MARCis a wonderful
thing or a disaster. It's a nice communications tool,
but it's done terrible damage in terms of making people
think how they should search. It does its job as a
communications format, but people are trying to apply
it to things for which it wasn't designed, such as
museum collections and audiovisual materials. What's
happened is that libraries stuff things in the wrong
field because there isn't a field, so when you look
at a tape, you don't know what you've got.
Summit: We must add Sam Wolpert, who developed
the innovative Predicasts database. One time he said
that every event in the world can be classified according
to geography, product type, transaction type, and
time. He set up his indexing schema along those lines.
This was our first business database. It focused on
chemistry and electronics and was subscribed to in
hard copy form by most of SDC's chemical customers.
We beat SDC to full-text title and abstract indexing
and this was one of the reasons. Predicasts gave us
an exclusive for a time.
Cuadra: Another key person was Monty Hyams
of Derwent. He was a pain, but he was one of the first
people to say, "I'm going to pay you to put my database
online. You can make some money, but I'm going to
run it." The thing that was so painful was, he wanted
the displays and printouts to look exactly the same
as his printed products. He never caught on to the
fact that having uniform search terms across databases
was a benefit and could create traffic and money.
Bjørner: This attitude is still
with us. Some people who are responsible for and wed
to one particular set of data don't understand that
nobody's going to pay big bucks to look at that particular
piece of data in isolation; they want to see it in
conjunction with a bunch of other pieces.
Cuadra: That's right. I think of what we
and others did. One of the most important things we
did was to create as uniform a language as one could
get, so people understood that AU means author and
TI means title, etc.
Is there anyone on your list from the library
and information science schools?
Cuadra: The library schools didn't have online,
until you, Roger, started making it easy.
Summit: Yes, we made it free.
Cuadra: I didn't see them as a group pushing
Summit: We did.
Kollin: Ted Hines was important. He was my
professor at Columbia. He later went to North Carolina.
Do you consider each other pioneers?
Cuadra: Not for me. I was aware of what Roger
was doing, and I knew that not many other people were
doing it. But just like the hero badge, you don't
put it on until some point in time when the world
says that you're a hero or a pioneer.
Did you have heroes?
Cuadra: Hans Peter Luhn. Every time I hear
someone talking about push technology, I think of
Summit: Calvin Moores.
Cuadra: Calvin Moores. Dake Gull. There are
a whole pile of folks that used to be the core of the
ADI, the American Documentation Institute.
Online Then and Now
Are there any current pioneers that you particularly
admire or respect?
Cuadra: I can't think of any. We're not very
interested in the Internet. Our software is for intranets,
so I have some heroes among customers who have caught
on and who have learned how to serve their organization
and thereby help the library or the records center
continue to exist. They're numerous.
Summit: There are services I admire on the
Internet. Copernic, which is a metasearch system,
not an engine per se. I admire the WebTop product.
It's concise and flexible. I think eBay is a fantastic
innovation. A lot of the Internet commerce things
just blow my mind.
Cuadra: MapQuest, of course.
Summit: The thing that overwhelms me is that
when Carlos and I were reviewing the history, there
was a handful of people thinking about developing
features and systems. Now, there are millions. All
those little brains popping. Somebody gets a little
nuance of something and it becomes a business, because
there's so much money floating around. The innovation
and the growth of these Web applications are just
Are you glad that you developed online back
Summit: Oh, absolutely.
Cuadra: It was fun.
You don't wish that you were developing it now?
Summit: No. I think I would have trouble
sleeping now and I didn't have trouble sleeping
then if I were dependent upon singular innovation.
Some guy down the street is staking his whole family's
future on something that integrates e-mail and a Web
browser, and there are a lot of those around. I don't
know how he's going to differentiate his service from
everything else going on.
We're glad you were able to sleep while you
were developing the online systems.
Summit: Well, not always.
There was a show I saw on CNBC, called something
like The Summit of the Internet. They had kind
of the top guys the founders of Yahoo!, the
founders of eBay, the founders of so-and-so. They
all sat around in an interview. The questions were
good. One was, "Now that you're all so rich, does
that mean that you just go off to Hawaii and sleep
late?" To the person, each said, "No. We started out
with a mission and we still have that mission to accomplish."
I think that epitomizes what Carlos and I think as
Cuadra: Did they come across with a mission
that was as together and pure as our generation? Now,
it's move more ads and squish the portal next to you,
and pretend we're different when....
Summit: They sounded very sincere and dedicated
to what their mission was. Now, I don't think their
missions are nearly as important as our mission was.
Cuadra: OK, fair enough.
From Early Online to the Internet
Cuadra: The Source and CompuServe were kind
of a bridge between professional online services and
the public. They introduced millions of people to
e-mail messaging, made them keyboard literate, and
in effect paved the way for millions of people to
adapt to the Web.
Were you on CompuServe through EasyNet?
Cuadra: No, we weren't.
Summit: We gatewayed from CompuServe through
Dick Kollin's EasyNet service.
What about Knowledge Index?
Summit: Knowledge Index was different.
That came off.
Summit: Yes, that was none of my doing.
We want to talk more about the Internet. Some
of the people with whom we've discussed this series
have characterized you not as pioneers but as dinosaurs.
You became "dinosaurs" in the early 1990s, they say,
because you were holding on to high-priced information
that you thought was special, and it stood in the
way of the development of the Internet. Didn't you
recognize the importance of the Internet?
Summit: Two comments on that. One is that
50 percent or more of our charges were for royalties,
which we paid our database suppliers.
We made a big mistake in pricing the service by
the hour. We did it because ERIC was $25 an hour,
and $25 an hour sounds good. But since we were charging
connecttime, we should have started out pricing it
by the minute, like the phone sex services do today.
You pay maybe a dollar and a half per minute. Look
at some of these ads. They are far pricier than we
Ardito: One article I read about the
early online years and pricing stated that you, Carlos,
and some of the others deliberately charged by the
hour because the 300 baud rate was so slow.
Summit: That's possibly true. Another thing
is the distinction between the database, the information,
and the customer service that sits behind the information.
I believe the people who are making these comments
think we're selling information. We're not selling
information. We're selling a process of retrieving
and identifying information and training people to
be effective in the process. That's gotten lost in
this whole thing, particularly since people started
taking Internet search engines for granted. But the
search engines don't have nearly the sophistication
that even our early systems did, and no service to
When they started out they said, "We don't need
all this complex, boring stuff." You'd just put in
a paragraph of words, and it would give you exactly
what you wanted back all 70,000 hits. They
seem to be competing to see which one can get the
most hits. Consequently the default operator between
words is "or," not "and," though some are changing.
But if you look at each one of the search engine
services, they've added sophistication. Maybe they
call it advance searching or something else, but they're
bringing in Boolean, they're bringing in field specification,
and I predict they'll bring in every important feature
that we introduced years and years ago.
Yahoo! started out with a classification system.
They didn't have a search engine at all. They had
four categories: earth, air, fire, and water. They
said nobody needs more categories than that. Now they
have 70 or 80 librarians doing the classification
Bjørner: I remember when Northern
Light started; they had classified ads in the Boston
Globe to hire librarians.
Summit: They were slick. They pointed themselves
at the business market, the librarian market. They
took in end users or consumers, but I think they were
in our business domain, whereas Alta Vista, Yahoo!,
Google, and Copernic, are not really in our business...or
what was our business.
Cuadra: When you said dinosaur, it made me
glad that I got out of the business in 1978, so only
you, Roger, got to be a dinosaur.
Summit: You were an embryo!
Cuadra: I moved on. I evolved!
What I want to share with Roger is about one time
when he and I went to an IIA meeting and had exhibit
booths across from each other. He'd come over to my
side for a while, and I'd show him something, and
I'd go over and he'd show me something. And then I
said, "They have a new retrieval system up the aisle."
I don't know if it was Xerox or some other company
that was touting this new system. "Let's go up and
look at it." We walked up and a young fellow showed
us the screen, and I said, "Can you find something
on water and elephants?" (or some two-term search).
He paused and said, "I can't do that; the system doesn't
do that. That would be a Boolean search." And he started
explaining Boolean logic to us. And there we stood
with our name badges in view: Carlos Cuadra, SDC Search
Service; Roger Summit, Dialog. We walked back and
I told Roger, "We are over the hill. We are absolutely
over the hill."
However, you remember we invented gateways?
Cuadra: That was very important; to me, it
was the first Internet. Say, SDC has something online,
and there is another database that's available on
some other service, but the producer doesn't want
to give us the database to load on our system. So
you say to the customer, "Okay, you search our database,
and if you're interested in the other content, we'll
link you." It's done transparently. In some cases,
they don't even know that they're using someone else's
online service. That was a bone of contention. I once
made a chart...
Summit: I see what you mean. I remember that.
Cuadra: ...of 300 connections where you get
from database to database to database all over Tymnet
or Telenet. That is the exact model of the URL system.
I don't think I've ever seen any recognition of gateways
as performing that role.
Summit: TRADELINE, for example, right now
on Dialog. You go in there, and there are different
Kollin: Remember EasyNet?
Summit: Yes. It was an end-user, cross-search
service, natural language translator that Dick invented.
It would allow a user to ask a question, and then
EasyNet would translate it crudely into Boolean to
be read by Dialog. It was very basic.
I came to this comment by way of a long conversation,
but after we had talked awhile I said, "Dick, this
is really crappy." And he said, "I know it's crappy,
but it's good enough." He said, "These people that
are using it are used to getting nothing, and now
they get something, and that's good enough. They don't
need to get everything." That was a very profound
observation. If you extend that statement to what
the Internet is today, it's exactly right on. "It's
Stephanie C. Ardito is the principal
of Ardito Information & Research, Inc., a full-service
information firm based in Wilmington, Delaware. Her e-mail
address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susanne Bjørner is an independent
consultant to publishers and authors and writes about
the information professions and industry. Contact her