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Memoirs of the Web Part 2

By John Graff

Larry Anglin, the creator of the initial website for NI (www.natinst.com) wrote a recent post sharing some of his recollections from the early/beginning days of NI’s website. I had the pleasure to work with Larry on the launch, and then take responsibility for NI’s web efforts when Larry left NI at the end of 1995.

The launch

In 1994 I had been doing some research about whether NI should have a “corporate” site as part of the popular dial-up services of the time, CompuServe and Prodigy.  One day, Larry showed me some work he was doing with html and Mosaic browser (I recall his demo being a clickable map of the US that would pull up picture and contact information for the relevant NI salesperson).  I remember instantly thinking that this graphical/interactive approach was WAY better than the text-based and SLOW approaches of the dial-up services. So, in my role as Corporate Marketing Manager, I started looking for ways to support and help Larry.

As Larry mentioned in his post, there was reluctance by some groups to provide content for this project. In my role I had responsibility for the Graphic Arts department (later called CDG) that was responsible for the production of all of our sales and marketing collateral (and we produced A LOT of collateral back in the day).  

Back in this time when Marketing ran an advertising or PR campaign, we would wait weeks or months to get the feedback (leads or bingos as they were called back then).  Another thing that instantly hit me when Larry launched the website was that people started contacting/responding to the webmaster almost immediately. I remember one of the first responses was congratulating NI for launching a site, and then asking when we would have more product and pricing information on the site!

I started asking the Graphic Arts department to provide me with the text from some of our product brochures and data sheets. Of course, they would ask what it was for, and I found a way to change the subject. As Larry described, I would take that text and start marketing it up in html using Notepad (between daily questions to Larry and buying a book on html, I came up to speed on the basics pretty quickly).  I would provide the html to Larry and we slowly just started building our content.

As Larry mentioned the site launched in January in 1995.  There was a website that kept track of when various websites were launched, and they showed that NI was among the first 25,000 corporate websites created (I have a screen shot of that somewhere but could not find it for this post).  That’s really amazing when you think of how many websites exist today (as of May 2021, it’s estimated that there are 1.7 BILLION websites).

Post-Larry

After Larry left NI, the responsibility for stewarding the web forward fell to me.  Obviously, I needed to recruit some help.  I got Andy Barton from the AE department to be our Electronic Marketing Manager (the web was still not very visible internally, and Dr. T was very focused on DAQ Designer and Instrupedia, our free software utility for designing a measurement system).  Andy and I also found an employee that worked in our literature fulfillment department who we heard was doing html work at night.  We asked him if he wanted to make that his daytime job (vs filling envelopes with catalogs and literature – we killed a lot of trees back then).

ni.com

As Larry touched on in his post, we started with the web domain of natinst.com.  It was not easy to remember or to tell someone over the phone. I would constantly get people asking me about ni.com or something better. We would continue to ping the small company that owned the ni.com domain, asking them if they wanted to sell the domain.  For years they would say no, but every few months we would ping them again.  Brent Babin, who had taken over for Andy, came to me one day in 1999 and said that the company was open to discussing the sale of ni.com.  One aspect Larry had wrong in his post was the amount paid – it was quite a bit more than $50K – but thanks to the support of Dr. T and Alex Davern (CFO), they agreed to fund the acquisition of the ni.com domain.

We kept it fairly quiet that we had acquired the domain as we worked towards preparing to launch with the new domain. One of my favorite moments from my NI career was when I internally announced our new domain during a company meeting presentation. We put together the following video:

While it wasn’t cheap to acquire the domain, as Dr T later stated, it was one of the best investments we could have made.

Before:

The natinst.com website

After:

The new ni.com website

Dr T – A Web Idea Every Day

During the early natinst.com days, there weren’t a whole lot of people that really understood or knew what the web was, nor was it the case like today where everyone could easily access the web.  I remember the point where Dr T fully caught the web bug.  Obviously, Dr T was always one with plenty of ideas, but now he started coming to me regularly with his web ideas.  In fact, he started stating throughout the company, in company meetings and sales conferences, that he was going to give me one web idea every single day.  I can vouch that he certainly lived up to that – in fact, one Saturday I was in the office and Dr T came in and saw I was there, “Great, I have a web idea ..!”

As Dr T would come to me with these daily ideas based on his experiences either surfing the web for plant/gardening information (his hobby at his new home) or related to his experiences surfing product data from companies like TI or Analog Devices.  He would often state, “have we ever thought of doing _______” with some idea based on what he had experienced.  Often, I was able to respond and say that we had in fact implemented something similar to his idea and I would proceed to show him on the web.  After quite a few instances of being able to point out that we had already implemented an idea he was running by me, I looked at him one day and said, “Dr T, have you ever been on our website?”  He looked at me sheepishly and said, “no, I guess I should.”  I always loved that story as it was an illustration of how his visionary mind worked – he could take inputs and ideas from other places and mentally think of how they could apply to NI.

More to Come

There are so many more stories related to NI’s web development – the first time I had to ask IT for support and help for a server, adding prices and eventually e-commerce, how we funded the expanded development efforts for the web, and many more. Plus, people like John Pasquarette, who played a significant leadership role with NI’s web efforts, can add so much more to the NI web history.

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