The Real Paul Jones

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Vanity Fair and the oral history of the Internet

There is a lot about the Vanity Fair site and the magazine that it represents that hint of happenings oral, but history isn’t one of those happenings that you might think of right off. Especially with various starlets with pouting lips in various states of undress along the edges of every story.

Nonetheless here it is “How the Web Was Won” right there below “a revealing interview with Angelina Jolie” and a look “behind the scenes at Annie Leibovitz’s photo session with Hannah Montana star Miley Cyrus.” The damn pages are almost NSFW and I’m no prude.

The article with audio, appropriately for an oral history, is more a set of nested quotes giving nuggets of insiders’ views of major events in the development of the Internet — the Web portion is neither the beginning which Vanity Fair sets as 1958 (the founding of ARPA but not of ARPAnet our Internet’s forerunner that came much later), nor the major part of the article. Afterall the Web, which the authors tie — I’d say rightly — with the launch of Mosaic, is only 15 years old if you stretch the definition of launch a little.

Nonetheless it’s an important feature with a lot of the right people (you will have your missing list as I do I’m sure) including folks I hadn’t heard from in some years, great folks as people too.

Reminds me of the Internet Pioneers collection on in several ways: audio interviews, historical sequence, going back a long ways to look for beginnings, etc. The two compliment each other well.

They have something else in common as well. Vanity Fair ends with an audio of Bob Metcalfe — they got his name wrong and called him “Larry” They just changed that in the text a few minutes ago but the error is preserved in the audio file name “Audio-Larry-Metcalfe.mp3”

The Internet Pioneers site managed to spell Douglas Engelbart’s name wrong all throughout the collection. I’m embarrassed to say that the note that we got correcting us came from Engelbart himself! Yikes! It took me several days to track down all the misspellings of his name. It was the least we could do, the site was highly ranked and cited complete with misspellings all over the net.


  1. Fred also had a great “computer history” link recently on Unit Structures:

  2. You’ve probably seen the famous Engelbart video embedded here:

    Mentioned in case not.

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