screenshot of Doug 1968 using hypermedia From early usage scenarios and rigorous field testing to enduring global impact
Watch Doug frame intended usage - from research goals and approach, to scope of use - in 1968

Historic Firsts:
Impact & Reach 0

Overview 1

Doug Engelbart's research enjoyed more widespread usage than you think, with phenomenal, enduring global impact across business and society. And we have barely scratched the surface of his guiding strategic principles for propelling humankind to our highest potential.1a

Here we coalesce the results of Engelbart's epic pioneering firsts – from system usage to strategic deploy­ment – as practiced by his team within his lab, and by early networked user groups supported by his lab, as well as the recognition, impact, and what is yet to come. 1b

His life's work, with his "big-picture" vision and persistent pioneering break­throughs, has made a signi­fi­cant impact on the past, present, and future of personal, inter­personal, and organi­za­tional compu­ting, with much more to come from his trans­formative strategic framework.

Early Scenarios 2

Early usage scenarios are documented in Doug's visionary Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework (1962): 2a

System Usage 3

Watch Doug and team presenting system usage during their 1968 demo

The following accounts describe system usage by individuals, groups and organizations. 3a

Groups 3b

Online Communities 3c

  • The NLS/Augment system was the first information system used by the very first online communities, beginning with the ARPANET development community (precursor to the internet), described here by internet co-founder Vint Cerf:

    "Engelbart led the invention of [NLS] in the mid-late 1960s and early 1970s. This system, while running only on one computer, was accessible through the ARPANET and later the Internet. [...] This was a popular system used by the ARPANET community." [Ref1] "Like many of the scientists and engineers who worked on the ARPANET project, I knew Doug Engelbart and made heavy use of his oNLine System (NLS) to compose documents and to share them through the Network Information Center that was operated by his team." [Ref2] "The first complete draft of the [ARPANET] TCP protocol (RFC 675 Dec 1974) was written [using] NLS via the ARPANET." [Ref2] "We had substantial amount of experience with Doug Englebart's system" [Ref3] "And remember we were using Engelbart's online system to compose an awful lot of the material. We had our own little web, it's just that it was on one computer and we had to get to it through the Net. And it didn't do everything that the World Wide Web does, but on the other hand, the World Wide Web doesn't do everything that Engelbart's system did either." [Ref4]

  • Browse Epic Firsts: Engelbart's Role in Early Computer Networking for details.
  • Watch Christina Engelbart summarize the lab's early support of online communities.

Organizations 3d

  • AUGMENT Support of Organizations: A Brief History, by Duane Stone, 1991 - Many organizations used the system throughout the 1970s and '80s. The user population was distributed from US to Germany to Australia, including aremote shared-screen demonstration conducted from Singapore.

Doug's Team 3e

  • Doug's research team was not only developing the system, they were the flagship pilot usage team and most rigorous and demanding user group, supporting all their fast evolving activities from brainstorming, drafting, commenting, designing, planning, software development, rapid prototyping, system documentation, user community support, and continuous improvement. See related Epic Firsts: For Knowledge Work, Team Work, System Engineering - complete with demo footage, descriptions, and more
  • Advanced Intellect-Augmentation Techniques - report describing the user experience in applying these tools and techniques, and what it's like to work in an augmented environment.
  • Browse footage from their 1969 demo for additional use cases such as a networked information center, software repository, and team admin.
  • Watch a demo of Augment Repository Management, and a demo of what augmenting the Whole Earth Catalog might look like.

Generic Usage 3f

  • Tymshare’s AUGMENT heralding a new era, by Patty Seybold, 1978 - a comprehensive review of a system designed for professionals and their collaborators, "to greatly 'augment' their creativity and productivity ... not viewed as a tool to avoid the duplication of effort, but as a technique, an environment which moves them closer to their goals through the augmentation of the human intellect."

Strategic Deployment 4

Watch Doug present his strategic approach in 1968

Accompanying his vision for the future in his Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework (1962), Doug proposed a strategic "Bootstrap Approach" for rapid prototyping the implementation at scale, which he then embedded it in the inner workings of his lab with unprecedented results:

  • Simply stated, this strategy accelerates results by pursuing (a) continuous improvement of the augmented human intellect capability; (b) pioneering experimental organizational improvements like methodologies, roles, language, along with the promise of new media, in a human-tool co-evolutionary process; (c) fielded in immersive pilot teams using a human-centered build-test-learn approach, assigning as the first pilot team the team that is rapid-prototyping these capabilities, such that harnessing their own emerging results augments their collective intellect and effectiveness, as they tackle the problem of augmenting human intellect for more and more pilot teams – Doug called this approach bootstrapping. See Epic Firsts: Design Strategy for an introduction.
  • Browse a case study of Doug's ARC Lab implementation of this Bootstrap Approach
  • Watch chief architect of the NLS system, Jeff Rulifson, reflecting on the disciplined approach of the lab, and the type of scaling effect this offered

Enduring Impact 5

Watch video tributes on the impact of Doug's life's work

Awards, panel discussions, and what's yet to come... 5a

  • See Engelbart Awards for honors and accolades representing the impact of his life's work
  • See Video Tributes (shown at right) accompanying key awards
  • See Quotes About Doug Engelbart by industry notables Adam Cheyer, Alan Kay, Paul Saffo, Bret Victor,... and The human side of Doug Engelbart for more quotes and insights
  • Vint Cerf, father of the internet, recounts:

    "Doug and [J.C.R. Licklider] were two of our farthest seeing visionaries. [Doug] had a keen sense of the way in which computers could augment human capacity to think. Much of what transpired at Xerox PARC owes its origins to Doug and the people who created NLS with him. The [Web] is a manifestation of some of what he imagined or hoped although his aspirations exceeded even that in terms of human and computer partnerships. " [Ref5] "J.C.R. Licklider is a psychologist at MIT, but he’s convinced in the early 1960s that computing [...] will allow people to collaborate in ways they never could before. He starts the Information Processing Techniques Office at ARPA and encounters Douglas Engelbart at SRI. The two bond because Engelbart’s oN-Line System (NLS) is all about nonnumeric computing and the ability of people to build up a superstructure of communication and documents and interact with each other. Engelbart has a “world wide web” in a box at SRI, and Licklider sends out slightly tongue-incheek notes to his community of people about this “intergalactic network.” [Ref6]

    "Some of the most creative minds in our field were gathered in Doug's laboratory to explore the augmentation of human intellect through the use of computers. His ideas, stemming in part from Vannevar Bush's MEMEX concept ("As We May Think(opens in a new tab)," 1945), were far-reaching. In some ways, his 1968 demonstration(opens in a new tab) of NLS was a glimpse 30 years into the future. Many of his team members went on to expand these ideas at Xerox PARC, Apple, Adobe and Sun Microsystems to name a few. [...] Doug will be long remembered by those who worked with him and now, in passing, by the many who did not know him but benefited from his vision and creativity." [Ref2]

  • Engelbart's "Unfinished Revolution" - he fulfilled the first two stages of a multi-phase research agenda, and since we have only scratched the surface of what he envisioned. See A Vision and A Strategy for more.

Engelbart’s ideas revolutionized computing and helped shape the modern world. [He saw] computers, interfaces, and networks as a means to a more important end amplifying human intelligence to help us survive in the world we’ve created.
Howard Rheingold, 2013 [source]

Learn More 6

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Explore 6a

Papers 6b

Press 6c

To Engelbart, his work was never about the technology itself, but about helping people work together to solve the world’s biggest problems.
Klint Finley in WIRED, Dec 9, 2018 [source]

References 7

  1. An Interview with Vinton G. Cerf, by Roberto V. Zicari, ODBMS, July 27, 2009
  2. The 'Father of the Internet' Remembers Douglas Engelbart, by Pete Pachal, Mashable, July 4, 2013
  3. Vint Cerf: We Knew What We Were Unleashing on the World, Ryan Singel, WIRED, Apr 23, 2012
  4. Oral History of Vinton (Vint) Cerf, Donald Nielson, Computer History Museum, Nov 7, 2007
  5. Douglas Engelbart, inventor of computer mouse and so much more..., Cyrus Farivar, Ars Technica, Jul 3, 2013
  6. Vint Cerf: A Brief History of Packets, IEEE Computer, Dec 2012