10 YEARS AFTER for ENA Netweaver

Essay contributed to the Netweaver Page,
an online newsletter published by ENA (Electronic Networking Association).

Izumi Aizu

Institute for HyperNetwork Society, and

GLOCOM (Center for Global Communications),


Going online, going US, meeting with pioneers
It was more than 10 years ago when I first logged on to The Source. Sometime in the Fall of 1984, I started to use the computer network simply because I got the free membership of the Source through the Computer Press Association(CPA) of which I was the charter member. It was purely out of my curiosity. The content on The Source I got was not too exciting initially, the discussions on PARTI seemed interesting, but I couldn't figure out how to connect these online activities with my real business. I was working in the field of international marketing and PR in a small company in Tokyo.

When I was planning to travel to the U.S. the next year, I tried to visit some of the most active users online. I wanted to know why they are so much eager to spend their time in the online world. It was after some 10 years of my devotion to working in that company that I decided to quit to take a long leave outside the business world, and I wanted to know what to do for the next decade myself, and that was a big quest.

I just sent a few e-mails to such people as Lisa Carlson, Mike Greenly, and Phil Hopkins on the Source. I met Phil in Los Angeles, who was the Sysop of CPA forum on the Source. He showed me how tough yet rewarding to activate an online professional forum. Mike suggested to meet in a coffee house before 5 in the morning in Manhattan!. He explained to me why he quit his corporate life at a Fortune 500 company and joined the online journalism after being affected by Alvin Toffler's "The Tired Wave" and tried to cover the Presidential campaign online. Still I knew almost nothing about the real significance of the vast open online world until I met Lisa in Washington D.C. She introduced me to another visionary, Frank Burns, the captain of Metasystems Design Group(MDG), the home of The Meta Network. Frank is the kind of person I was looking for. I immediately became the member of the Meta Net.

Lisa also introduced me to such folks as Harry Stevens of PSI in Cambridge MA, the software developer for PARTI, Fred Dudden who was running Unison in Denver, Colorado, Tom Hargedon of the WELL which was just starting the initial service, George Por and Margaret Chambers, MDG's 'friends' in the west coast. I visited them physically, spent a few hours or a night with them to grasp how electronic networking changed their lives. From LA to NY to Washington DC to Cambridge to Denver to San Francisco, that was quite a trip.

Starting IND, quest for social change
By meeting and talking with these pioneers, I soon realized that this new medium had potential to change some of the basic principles of our society, with some new dynamic, two-way interactive, and human-to-human communications dimensions. Above all, the people I met were all very idealistic, filled with beautifully high energy for such wild and uncertain mission.

I ended up visiting the US three times in 1985 alone, couldn't resist to join these frontiers, wrote a detailed private report on the state of computer networking in US, and decided to start a new business myself, named "Institute for Networking Design(IND)" with a few other young and ambitious members in Japan. Three of the original members of IND, Hiroyuki Nakamura, Sumiko Onozawa (Hirano) and I participated the first annual symposium of ENA - "Using the Medium " - in November, 1985. We even hosted 'international party' in our suite room, 2 days in a row, serving Teriyaki Stake and other goodies. We were surprised that nearly 50 people crowded in the tiny hotel room. Again they were very much idealistic, optimistic and energetic people for the social change that this medium might bring.

I participated all of ENA symposia, in Allentown, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. In Allentown, I was honored to receive the ENA's first David Rodale Award for my contribution to building the global network.

Save Ikego online campaign
That I helped to organize in 1985 to prevent the destruction of precious forest in the city of Zushi, a city 30 miles south of Tokyo, was the prime reason for the Award. The Japanese government was planning to construct many housings for US Navy officers, the land had been a sanctuary for more than half a decade because it was used for underground ammunition depot . To make the long story short, the citizens won 2 mayors and numerous local elections, but couldn't stop the national government construction totally, and made a final 'compromise' this year. Housings are built, with minor modification and reduction, citizens are back to the original calm lifestyle, with lessons and bitterness and prides.

Early Networking in Japan
IND tried to open up a new and unknown field of electronic networking in Japan, with research and consulting as well as conference organizing and other social activities as main business activities. In 1989, for example, we organized a big international conference on networking, in Sendai and Tokyo, with some 50 participants from outside Japan. Lisa and Frank, of course, Peter Vail of George Washington Univ, the cursor-cowboy Dave Hughs from Colorado, Jonathan Rotenburg, chairman of Boston Computer Society, Odd de Presno from Norway, Alex from Soviet, Prof. Uh from Fudan University of Shanghai, China, Yu Kyon He of Korea, to name a few of these most active online evangelists joined our conference. We lost Robert Stiles in Sendai whose memory of trying to let American Indians online is still clear to me. Computer networking in Japan became fairly popular through the late 80s to early 90s in Japan, commercial networks have reached more than 1 million members around 1990, now is estimated close to 3 million.

IND did survived for some 7 years with ups and downs common to most of startups. Then our dream was transferred to a new venture, Institute for HyperNetwork Society(IHNS), established in March 1993. This institute is a public not-for-profit foundation, chiefly supported by local government of Oita, a small prefecture in Kyushu island, better known for the home of COARA. COARA was established in May 1985, another history of the decade we share and COARA became one of the most active grassroots citizens network in Japan. They have links with Santa Monica's PEN, as well as with Sapporo, Hiroshima and a few other local cities in Japan.

HyperNetwork and Internet wave
In 1992, we organized the first "HyperNetwork Conference" in Oita, trying to foresee the new society when high speed, multimedia networking becomes available to the ordinary citizens. Howard Rheingold was the keynote, and he really did what he was supposed to do - ignite people's mind with the vision. People with community of mind was what he experienced through his deep involvement with the WELL, yet he tried to stretch it deep into the future. The idea of having real research instituted in Oita was triggered by Howard's and all other participants' zest, moved local and national government people as well as some major companies, led to the establishment of IHNS in 1993.

Around 1992 to 1993, the Internet wave landed in Japan. GLOCOM, another non-profit research center in Tokyo where I work for as part-time researcher, was slightly ahead of the pack and became focal point of social side of research about this new emerging global commons. I see many of the old names and faces since ENA days, even now, via new e-mail address or mailing lists. When I visited the White House and met the members of Information Infrastructure Task Force (IITF), one guy approached me at the coffee break and told me that he had known me - we met in ENA conference in Allentown in 1989!!

I know we are still all young, with big ideas and endless dreams. We must have learned a lot through the past decade both online and offline. Groupware, Internet, Virtual Community - all becoming a reality, and central forces to constitute the corner stone of the next generation of our society. It may create century-wise or even millennium-wise social change, not decade-wise, for sure. But I think this very past decade is really the key time, from 1985 to 1995, to prepare the coming vast change, for that I am proud that I was one of the original members of the ENA!