History Of The World — Our Version
On March 21, 1989 STD, Inc. was incorporated as a software consulting
company. In the early days we worked on some interesting projects
including re-writing the user interface for a sizeable electronic mail
/ conferencing company, editing and writing for technical magazines,
some various software consulting gigs (hi GraphOn!) and not a lot more
because this period only lasted several months.
Our personal backgrounds were in academic computer science, the
internet, software development, and network, server, and computing
The original name for the company was "Software Tool & Die", a
name we still use as a d/b/a. That name was from an old, inside
joke. Tool & Die companies were machine shops generally known for
taking a blueprint of a tool or piece of equipment and a hunk of metal
and making them both match to a high degree of precision. For example,
an engine part which was no longer available, or a special purpose
part for a factory, often a "die", something which might hold some raw
material for automatic machining. "To Tool" was an expression in the
academic technical community which meant to overwork, such as in the
night before a final project was due, or on a grant proposal under
deadline. The pun of "Software Tool & Die" should be obvious. To
work on software with great precision and do it until it was done, or
We've gotten a lot of mail and sales calls from people thinking we're
a tool & die shop, or see our name spelled "Software Tool &
So, why STD, Inc? The story goes that when our lawyer brought our
incorporation papers in for filing the Massachusetts Secretary of
State himself, Michael J. Connelly, happened to be sitting in the
front office and grabbed the papers to take a look. "Software?!" he
grimaced, "Software Tool & Die"? What does that mean? There are
too many software this and software that companies in
Massachusetts. PICK ANOTHER NAME! he ordered. Our lawyer decided
better to get this done today than quibble so asked Connolly if "STD,
Inc." with "Software Tool & Die" as the d/b/a ("doing business
as") was acceptable? Connolly said that would be fine, so we're STD,
Inc. d/b/a Software Tool & Die.
During the summer of 1989 we bought a Sun4/280 server, a 72" rack with
two whopping 474MB Fujitsu Eagle II disks – yes, a total of less
than a gigabyte, a lot back then. This was more computer than we
really needed to do our software work so the idea came to mind to
offer email and usenet online discussion group services to the general
One of us drove over to a computer store, "The Bit Bucket", in West
Newton, MA with a credit card in hand and bought six 2400bps Microcom
modems, we ordered some phone lines, arranged to connect to other UUCP
servers in the area, and called the new service "The World". This was
all pre-internet (for us, the internet had existed for 20 years but
academic/research only), or indirectly internet, or technically "the
internet" but not really. We dialed another server and exchanged data
a few times per hour.
Our brilliant marketing idea was to go to the local copy shop and
photocopy a few hundred flyers to hand out at local colleges because
back then some people who you'd find on college campuses knew about
electronic mail and maybe even usenet. We got DOZENS of customers for
around $20/month! Our original price list had different hourly charges
for day, evening, and late night. We had nothing to model pricing on.
At a meeting we agreed that if it paid monthly for the loan we'd taken
out to get the equipment, the monthly phone bill, and electricity we'd
consider this a success.
If someone wanted a file from the real internet one of us would
dial into an account somewhere, download the file, and put it
somewhere on The World they could access it. Yes, manually!
At that time there were two commercial internet services on the
planet: UUNET and PSI. They sold "high-speed" dedicated lines (often
as fast as 1.5Mb/s!) and connectivity to the internet to companies who
could afford the thousands of dollars in equipment and thousand
dollars or more per month for the connectivity.
One of those companies, UUNET, was founded and run by a friend who
called and asked if he could locate a rack of equipment in our offices
in Brookline, MA to service their Boston area customers. We said
sure. He asked what we'd charge them and the answer was "all the
(internet) bits we could eat!" We wanted a direct connection to the
internet we could resell to our customers. Probably since that had no
further direct impact on cash flow for either of us the deal was made
and in October 1989 The World became the first service on the planet
offering internet access to the general public for a modest fee,
We registered the domain std.com and gave the service the
host name world.std.com. Later we would acquire world.com and
theworld.com. We sold world.com in the dot-com madness and
now mostly use TheWorld.com though std.com host names still
But there was trouble in paradise.
The internet, at that time mostly the NSFnet run by the United States
National Science Foundation, was an academic and research facility. To
be connected you had to either have a research grant from a major
government agency or be an accredited university. There was also the
MILNET, the U.S. military's part of the net. The internet had
originally been a research project funded by the pentagon's Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, usually shortened to just
ARPA, before being transferred to NSF and opened to the general
academic research community this was all known as the ARPAnet.
The powers that be at NSF decided that selling access to individuals
was a problem. Partly they were worried about security because as we
all know the general public is a far different kettle of fish than a
few million college students who by then had access, and there was
this concern that re-selling government funded services might be just
NSF asked us what we would do if a customer "misbehaved" in some way?
For example, sent threatening email to someone or who knows what else,
spam wasn't really a concept yet. They asked us to think about that
and get back to them because at least with a faculty or student they
could refer them to some disciplinary committee but what could we do
with the general public?
We thought about this problem for a while and finally responded: Not
much! We could close their account but they could probably open
another account without too much trouble.
Compare and contrast with today where the internet is known to be
crime-free and a place of ready accountability for transgressions. Or
So we talked about it with the powers-that-were at NSF. And they
blocked us from about 2/3 of the internet.
This started a lively discussion on the network management mailing
lists. We got hate mail from individuals who thought it was just wrong
to take money to resell government facilities, very wrong! Our
argument was that if we had a taxi service which took you to
Yellowstone Park that wouldn't be reselling Yellowstone Park (a
national park), it would just be selling our transport to and from the
We explained the situation to our customers and promised to keep them
informed of any changes, but for the time being connectivity to other
sites would be hit or miss. Since there was no other choice for most
of them, we were the only such service, anywhere, they bided their
time. We had people dialing in from all over the world, paying
international long-distance rates just to be able to send and receive
e-mail and similar. AOL, for example, existed at this time but did not
yet have any connectivity to the internet. Neither did other closed
e-mail (only able to send between customers) such as The Well,
MCImail, Compuserve, Delphi, and various home-grown "bulletin board"
systems. For anyone not affiliated with an officially sanctioned
organization such as a university we were all there was.
One morning the phone rang, it was NSF. There was to be a meeting
about the situation, could we send an email in the next hour formally
requesting connectivity to the entire net? By the end of the day we
had full connectivity and the rest is history.
I've edited out the names but here was the email from NSF giving us
permission to let the general public on. I think it's safe to say that
the last sentence of this letter is an amazing bit of internet
To: email@example.com (Barry Shein)
Subject: What's wrong with this picture...
As the several communities' (and our) understanding of what constitutes
"Acceptable Use" matures, some ancient inequities become glaringly evident.
Odd that you should write just now, as Software Tool & Die has been on my
mind of late as a prime example.
->However, my staff and myself would be happy to pro-actively educate
->our users about the guidelines of AUP and their responsibilities to
->abide by it. I would be glad to discuss how to best do this with you.
->I have in mind paper mailing all our customers a notice about the
->rules governing such access, creating an easily accessed file on-line
->re-stating these rules and practical clarification, and pointing them
->towards this information in the login banner displayed every time they
->sign onto the system. I have no problem with discontinuing service to
->people who flagrantly violate these rules or cause other problems,
->abiding by the rules of networks accessed is already contained in our
->standard contract with customers.
What's to discuss? That sounds fine to me. As a value-added reseller, your
obligation - which you understand and freely accept - is to educate your
clientele and deal with violations, and if violations occur they are not
yours but your customer's. As a user yourself, in acquiring the material
you make available, you understand our Acceptable Use plicy and will I know
observe it. (BTW, there was a slight change to the policy in June, so I've
attached below the new version. And of course if H.R. 5344 [the "Boucher
Amendment"] becomes law there are likely to be further changes.)
So with all the foregoing as preamble, NSF is happy to permit carriage of
your Acceptable Use-conformant traffic over NSFNET Backbone Services.