Interviews With Early Web Developers · Míc Miller 1

What this is about:

Michael Miller is an award-winning designer and computer graphics analyst, as well as a recognized expert and innovator in computer-aided design and drafting (CADD), graphical user interface (GUI) techniques, mega-scale interactive media project management, and virtual communities. He is also author of a wildly popular book, The Webmaster's Guide to Glory! — How to Win the Top Web Awards. The beekeeper of The Beeline @, Míc, as he is known on the Internet, is a native of Bloomington, Indiana, USA. Míc attended Indiana University as a psychology major on an athletic scholarship. With the help of his coach, Bob Knight, Míc transferred to the University of Colorado, Boulder to pursue architectural studies. He graduated from the design college with honors and was distinguished as the first senior to author a masters-level thesis.

Jeff ClarkThis is your friendly interviewer, Jeff Clark, as he appeared in 1999. Time changes things.

The Beeline

The Beeline is a true legacy Web site. After years of research in internet technologies, Míc launched The Beeline in 1994 to serve the community of South Central Indiana. Deploying his patented Beeline-AIR System (area information retrieval), he has since expanded its reach globally. Its mission is simply to be "The quickest way around town and the world." Beeline Publications offers services that include Web publishing, design and development, as well as site maintenance and management. We caught up with Míc in late October 1999 and invited him to talk to us about the early days on the World Wide Web, effective area information retrieval, and how we all can best maximize community opportunities that the Internet presents.

[Internet Brothers] Welcome, Míc, and thanks. You were actually a beta-tester of the original Web browser, Mosaic. The highly successful Beeline has been around since that early beginning. How did it all get started?

[Míc Miller] Well, you're welcome. Thanks for asking me here. It's said that meaning is something we acquire by collecting different pieces. The Beeline is an example of this that started in 1977 when my urban design/regional planning professor volunteered me to test his friend's doctoral project. It turned out to be a 3D-animation program for the IBM 360. Despite having to use punch cards, programming those wire-frame models and moving them around made me fall in love with computing in general, and computer graphics, in particular.

The next root experience was my urban design/regional planning thesis. During this period of self-inflicted hell, I learned many new town planning skills such as inference reading, projecting trend-lines, scenario building, and temporal visualization. The breadth and depth of this thesis, coupled with the level of complexity, disciplined my mind for mega-scale, multidisciplinary projects. What I ended up with was far more than the lunacy I had to do it.

Then, in 1987, three revolutionary ideas presented themselves to me. In January, I accepted a university position that required using something called the Net. That August, I got Bill Atkinson's HyperCard and was awed by his hypermedia. And finally, in December, I attended a Nicholas Negroponte lecture on "Virtual Cities." Any one of these events would have lit my imagination like a physicist groking e=mc² for the first time. Instead, they showed me the coming of virtual communities and how they could work.

The next two events occurred when Tim Berners-Lee unleashed his World Wide Web with HTML in 1990 and NCSA leaked Mark Andreesen's Mosaic Team Project in 1993. I fooled around in Tim's WWW area with a Unix workstation; but frankly, after HyperCard & Mac, I wasn't that impressed, not until I was asked to evaluate Mosaic's feasibility for the Superconducting Super Collider Project. My imagination lit up again, and this time I couldn't stop thinking about how to create a virtual community.

[IB] As a high school basketball star, you were recruited by the infamous Bob Knight to play for Indiana University. Do you have any experiences you'd like to share with our readers about him and life in the pressure-packed atmosphere of top-ranked intercollegiate athletics?

[MM] Infamous? If I can arrange it, would you say that to Coach's face? I'll split the video royalties with you. Seriously, Coach Knight is one of the greatest intellects I have met and I've been around some great ones. Coach showed me a level of excellence I never knew existed. He was a great teacher for me despite the fact my lessons seemed remedial at times.

Unfortunately, it's not easy to share a story about Coach without getting a web site in trouble with Net Nanny and the like. Besides, there's an unwritten code about discussing his warm, heartfelt chats and the skillful tricks he's performed with inanimate objects. I will tell you this: play by his rules and he's your best ally. I did, and when I told him the University of Colorado had the curriculum I wanted, he had their coach on the phone the next minute, and within four more it was a done deal; full scholarship and more. As for living in a pressure-packed environment, I'd say, avoid it if you can — life's too short.

“The Beehive directory is basically a virtual parking garage with levels, sections and stalls to park and find content and resources.” — Míc Miller

Area Information Retrieval System

[IB] Would you please describe how your Area Information Retrieval System (AIRS) developed, its present implementation on The Beeline, and where you want to go with the technology in the future?

[MM] In the beginning, which was 1994, there was far more doodling and parameter generation than sketching and designing. I intentionally inched into the project. I knew I had to make lots of assumptions and decisions that would have to hold true for a very long time. Some of them were philosophical, many were psychological. Design issues focused on audiences that weren't even online yet. The prime technical objective was to support the greatest percentage and number of audiences possible — including devices that didn't, and still don't, exist yet.

What I ended up with was The Beeline philosophy, the Beeline-AIR System, the Beehive metaphor, a Folk Tech style, the Hit the Hive concept, lots of buzzwords & nonverbal clues, and some fun stuff. The Beeline-AIR System allows the Beehive directory to showcase local Web presence before moving beyond the Hive to the state level and then on to the picks of the Web. What makes this local-to-global approach appropriate is the fact that the Internet's nature has been a dispersed, bottom-to-top proposition since ARPANET's inception.

Its present implementation is a tool I call the Web Army Knife. The tool bars have information, tips & tricks, reference material, tools, and resources — to name a few. I do my utmost to help newbies become good netizens. The Beehive directory is basically a virtual parking garage with levels, sections and stalls to park and find content and resources. There are lots of ways to move about it with panic buttons everywhere for help and support.

Where do I want to go? I'd like a chance to take the virtual community concept into virtual reality. But first, I need things like true-3D file formats, photorealistic rendering / mapping / streaming, unlimited leveling and reference file attachments, symbol libraries, a public Internet2, and a staff that knows what they're doing for the long term.

Proceed to part 2 of Internet Brothers interview with Míc Miller.

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