Chapter 23

THE WEBMASTER

Kip Parent


THE FORCE (John McCrea): Kip Parent is one of the original drivers of Silicon Graphics' adoption of the Web. He developed and managed Silicon Surf, which is about taking the message of the company externally via the Internet.

Kip Parent is founder of Pantheon Interactive and is former electronic sales manager of Silicon Graphics.



On a business trip to Europe in early March of 1993, Kip Parent was looking at technologies based on CDs and SGML publishing. He happened to visit Tim Berners-Lee at CERN in Switzerland, who said to him, "Look at this. Here's what I think the future is. It's called the World Wide Web." Berners-Lee had invented the Web as a text-based system that enabled particle physicists to share information. That very month, Marc Andreessen had released his first alpha copy of the Mosaic browser, which he developed on a Silicon Graphics Indigo computer. Berners-Lee showed it to Kip, who said, "Wow, this is what I need. I'm going to use the World Wide Web!" .

Kip had recently moved to Silicon Graphics from Hewlett-Packard, where he worked as an R&D manager, because he wanted to become more involved in leading-edge technology. Silicon Graphics at that time was trying to figure out how to establish what it called an "electronic channel" with customers.

"From the first time I saw the Web in March '93," he says, "I believed that it was going to be the information superhighway and that proprietary services were going to die. Outside of Bert Fornaciari, the VP I worked for, nobody else believed it. Bert would go off to a meeting with Jim Clark, chairman [and founder] of Silicon Graphics, and he'd come back and tell me that some of the senior people were OK about it but that Clark was sitting in the back of the room giving him raspberries, saying interactive TV is where it's at and this Internet stuff isn't going to fly. That's funny, because when you think of the Internet today, who do you think of? Jim Clark! A billion dollar's worth of Netscape stock. Back then, he was 'Mr. Interactive TV.'"

According to Kip, SGI was considering a proprietary service that didn't make sense. "I spent my first eight months there trying to convince the management that it was not a good idea," he says. "I spent eight months telling executive after executive that we should use the Internet. The response was, "You can't use the Internet!" Or, "What's the Internet?" The typical response in early 1993 was that the Internet was the CB radio craze of the '90s."

Today, Silicon Graphics is on the leading edge of the Internet and Kip is responsible for all aspects of SGI's activities on the Web. This includes managing creative, technical, production, and electronic sales staff; developing new Internet-based services; and evangelizing Internet products on behalf of Silicon Graphics at trade shows and industry conferences. He originated and launched Silicon Surf, SGI's award-winning Web site. It is the ninth most accessed site on the Web, according to Interactive Age magazine, has been featured in dozens of books and magazine articles, and is the recipient of many widely respected Internet and Web awards, including "best site" by Interactive Age in 1995.

Kip Parent is "The Webmaster." David Bunnell and I have been working with him as part of a technology collaboration between Content.Com Inc. and SGI. It's been an interesting experience for me to check out his creative environment, having produced in 1965 what I called "Intermedia Kinetic Environments" with artists such as Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg, and Nam June Paik. On the Web, which I consider to be the canvas of the '90s, creativity is being driven not by people from the art world but by engineers such as Kip Parent.


THE WEBMASTER (Kip Parent):
A lot of corporate guys are saying that the Web is going to implode and that 40 percent of the companies on the Web today will be gone in six months. I think they are wrong. Interactive TV is what has imploded. We may very well see a merging of the ideas of interactive TV and the Web as we get broadband TCP/IP broadcasts via TV cables. We'll see a natural merging of the technology, but it'll be far better and far more powerful than people were thinking interactive TV would be in 1993. You're really going to have the opportunity to interact with it.

So where will Netscape be in this? The real question is, How effective will Bill Gates be in scuttling it? Bill Gates is probably the biggest obstacle Netscape has. But Jim Clark is smart. One of his big talents is pulling together sets of people who can make things happen. Jim Clark came up with the idea of visual computing back in 1982. He tried to sell it to the big companies‹HP, IBM, DEC‹and they all pushed him off. So he started his own company and got Ed McCracken out of HP to run it. If Jim Clark has a great idea, he gets it going; he doesn't need to be the president of the company. I give him a better-than-even chance of being bigger than Microsoft in a decade. Netscape has played its cards right at this point. Gates is going to try to give away software as part of his operating systems and cut Netscape out of the market. Guerrilla tactics. That's a hard thing to do. He couldn't manage to scuttle Intuit, which had a good foothold and better software than Microsoft. I don't think Netscape is Bill's to take.

We started Silicon Surf in April 1994. At that time, there were only about five sites, and there weren't any models to follow. I read somewhere that on the first round-the-world airplane trip, the people flying the plane were mechanics. It couldn't be done any other way. From that point of view, the very first people creating the Web sites had to be very technical. There were a lot of things we had to figure out from a technical standpoint for the first six or seven months we were in business. Fortunately, we were able to draw from SGI's vast archive of high-quality graphics. We begged, hustled, and cajoled most of the content that we put online. We thought that because we were Silicon Graphics, we had to have good graphics from the start. That really paid off for us. We quickly became the de facto place to go if you wanted to see good integration of media on a Web site.

The idea behind our Web site is to bring people in to see things they can't see other places. Then we want them to ask us how it's done. We can then say to them, "It's done on Silicon Graphics, using a certain kind of software. By the way, here is how you can get it." All the way down the line we draw them in. In other areas on the Web site, we tell how our customers are using our equipment. If we are going to attract the people who really buy these $30,000 or $40,000 super desktop computers, we have to show them what their competition is doing, why their competition is going to win by going with Silicon Graphics, and why they'd better go with us, too, if they want to be competitive.

We are not just throwing print online. I look at this medium as much more akin to television than any other medium. The typical cable system has thirty to forty channels, and if viewers find one thing boring, they can switch to another channel. On the Web, there are a hundred thousand channels, and a year from now there are going to be a million. If we put unimaginative material out there, someone's going to change the channel.

The pundits who say it's going to take a long time to make money on the Internet just don't get it. We have a lead-generation form that people can fill out on Silicon Surf. They tell us who they are, what products they're interested in, what their budget is, what their purchase time frame is, what their role in the purchase process is‹all the questions a sales rep would ask. This is valuable information. The Web is the single highest source of high-quality leads that we get at Silicon Graphics. Transactions are starting to come in. We are actually selling desktop systems via the Internet. For some people, the Web is the preferred vehicle. If they know what they want and feel they can get a fair price without having to go with a salesperson, they will buy online.

The catalog business is going to make the transition online much faster than any of the prognosticators are saying. I just read that the direct-mail business was worth $57.4 billion dollars in 1995 in this country. One out of every two Americans bought something via the mail last year. People are saying that the Internet might generate $1 billion by 2000. They're wrong. By 2000, it's going to be a $10 billion business. Ten years after that, catalog publishers are going to find they just can't compete. The economics are so obviously in favor of the Internet.

For example: In 1994, when Silicon Graphics was a $1 billion company, we printed 11,000 three-inch-thick paper catalogs advertising our products. In 1995, we made $2.2 billion dollars and more than doubled our profits but printed only 10,000 catalogs. Why? A year ago we put our applications catalog on Silicon Surf. Customers can go to the catalog and ask to see something about wind flow analysis. Bam, right up on the screen, within a second or two, are the thirty applications that address wind flow analysis. It's very powerful and compelling, and it's reflected in our profits.

It is the old question of push versus pull: By sending out a catalog every two weeks, you invade the consumer's space. That's powerful, but at Silicon Surf, we depend on our potential customers to think about us and come in of their own accord. I've tried combinations of active marketing. I started a publication called Iris Online, an email-based publication received by tens of thousands of subscribers every month. Like a catalog, it shows up in their mailboxes, but the big difference is that the mailing hyperlinks back into my Web site. Customers can look at what I've got, click, and get to the site. I want to get people to subscribe to my list so I can entice them. Since I'm not spending any money on distribution and printing, I can put more money into enticements.

I'm not sure we coined the term intranet at Silicon Graphics, but we started using it, and it's become the buzzword today. It came about because the only way we could maintain the culture at Silicon Graphics was to improve the communications vehicles within the company. Intranets have given us that capability. Every department in the company has a Web server. Intranets give us a competitive advantage because the Web inside Silicon Graphics makes it easier for people to publish their information or communicate within the company.

Intranets will dramatically cut paper use. At Silicon Graphics, we've cut out 90 percent of the internal administrative paperwork. When I joined the company three years ago, every employee went through a four-hour orientation, about an hour and a half of which was spent filling out forms. Every one of those forms is now online. The process is faster for everybody, the information is immediately useful, and we have zero scrap cost. Today's environment changes so fast that brochures are often obsolete by the time you get them back from the printer. Scrap costs are huge when you print your sales material. Our product line is new every eighteen months. If our sales reps have to hand out old brochures, our competitors can say, "You know, their brochure says that their top of the line is 175 MHz, and the sales rep says something else. Who're you going to believe?" Casting doubt on your competitor is half of sales. When your data is online, you can update it instantaneously and make it available immediately. Intranets make sense for all kinds of companies. It's just better economics.

THE SEER (David Bunnell): Not too many people know Kip, but millions know his work. He doesn't need to be out front, because he is the one who is really making things happen. He is quiet, but driven, and even though he is very young, he understands how to motivate people. This guy is going places.

THE CONSERVATIVE (David Gelernter): Kip Parent has done first-class work on making the Internet honest and serious: he counts users fairly and plays fair across the board. Hype is an enormous problem in the Internet world. If things continue as they're going now, the whole deal is guaranteed to collapse‹the Internet is oversold and it under-delivers. Parent's approach to Internet seriousness and integrity is crucial.


Back to Contents

Excerpted from Digerati: Encounters with the Cyber Elite by John Brockman (HardWired Books, 1996) . Copyright © 1996 by John Brockman. All rights reserved.