Quick, what’s the significance of the following list of domain names?

Symbolics.com
BBN.com
Think.com
MCC.com
DEC.com

No, these aren’t the founding members of the military-industrial complex, even though Raytheon – the current owner of BBN.com – does market a product called LIDAR People tracking which sounds ominous.  Rather, these are the first five domain names registered.  Ever.  In fact, on March 15th of this year we crossed over the 26th anniversary date of the first domain name registration done by the computer company Symbolics. Spun out of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab, now known as CSAIL, Symbolics specialized in LISP computers and associated programming and died a long, slow, lingering death as the personal computer rose to prominence.

This of course sets me to wondering, what happened to each of those companies and does it shed any light on the business concept of “being first to market is always best”?

Well, number two on the list is BBN technologies which was founded in 1940 and survived as an independent technology firm for 69 years with some notable achievements along the way including the construction of the actual ARPANET network in 1969.  Sadly, though, even longevity is no safe haven as the Raytheon conglomerate swallowed BBN in 2009 and never looked back.  Hmm, they built the Internet’s predecessor and now they have a people tracker…

Moving on to domain number three we find yet another computer manufacturer in Think.com, the domain of the Thinking Machines supercomputer company.  Their early work with DARPA does qualify them as being part of the military-industrial complex, but they’ve become something of a cult reference showing up in Jurassic Park – you’ll see their machines in the background of the “how to make a dinosaur” video – and also in the 1996 Mission Impossible movie when the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) requisitions some Thinking Machines laptops for a hacking run against the CIA.  None of this proved helpful as Thinking Machines filed for bankruptcy in 1994.  Sun Microsystems picked up their assets which then went to Oracle when they swallowed Sun Micro a year or two back.

If you can imagine the dulcet tones of Casey Kasem echoing through your speakers we’ll move on to domain number four in our hit parade and the folks at Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation (MCC).  This research consortium produced, well, nothing of merit other than purchasing a large quantity of Symbolics computers.  Who said LISP was a dead end language?  Surviving on nothing but momentum or at least inertia, MCC ran out of funding and was shut down in 2000 due to lack of interest.  Ironically the highlight of MCC’s existence was probably the wake, held at Scholz’s Beer Garden in Austin TX.  Nothing says fun like a room full of computer research scientists and a keg of beer, trust me, I would know.

Last on our list we find the venerable initials of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) that operated for many years under the brand name DIGITAL.  You can date yourself slightly if the initials PDP or VAX mean anything to you, and perhaps less dated if Alpha chips ring your bell.  For me it’s the server Cheetah upon which I spent countless hours doing OO programming during the conversion of wireless billing system in the early 1990’s.  Like the other early adopters of this newfangled Internet thing, DEC suffered a fate slightly worse than death by first being absorbed by the folks at COMPAQ (COMPatibility And Quality) and then falling into the hands of Carly Fiorina and the HP machine in 2002.  Double ouch!

Lessons to be learned:
1) Being the first to register a domain name is not a surefire strategy to success
2) On the other hand, being the first to register several hundred domain names might have paid off handsomely
3) While you don’t have to be first, you definitely don’t want to be last otherwise your domain will wind up looking like a bad Scrabble word

Many thanks, and happy anniversary to registrants everywhere!

And for easy reference, here’s the top 100 list courtesy of the folks at iWhoIs.com (http://www.iwhois.com/oldest/).  Note that the Octopus and Toad phylum were well represented, can’t say much about the rest of the kingdoms.  Google, Amazon and Microsoft are not on the list, thus further proving the point that first is not always best….