The birth of live webcasting: The 1995 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony

The 1995 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony was one of the very first events to be webcast live. Robert T. Morris (who was notorious!), Trevor Blackwell, and Chris Small — all Harvard computer science grad students — engineered the webcast, with backing and encouragement from Professor Margo Seltzer. Today, Scott Kirsner profiles (for the BetaBoston web site) something else that Robert Morris and Trevor Blackwell were doing at that time:

Cambridge company born in Internet’s ‘big bang’ has lasting impact

Viaweb co-founders (from left) Trevor Blackwell, Robert T. Morris, and Paul Graham in the company's original office in Cambridge, circa 1995.

Viaweb co-founders (from left) Trevor Blackwell, Robert T. Morris, and Paul Graham in the company’s original office in Cambridge, circa 1995.

The summer of 1995 was a “big bang” moment for the Internet. Amazon.com switched on its servers two decades ago this month, and the founders of AuctionWeb — later renamed eBay — were busily preparing to launch their site on Labor Day weekend. Browser-maker Netscape went public in August. And a company you likely haven’t heard of, Viaweb, was founded in a triple-decker in Cambridge.

Viaweb never became as well-known as the others, but it played a pivotal role in the evolution of e-commerce, and the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The founders were a trio of Harvard University computer science alumni and graduate students who saw that selling things on the Web was going to be huge, at a moment when most people were still apprehensive about typing a credit card number into a Web browser. They also realized that rather than businesses buying their own servers, connecting them to the Internet, and taking orders that way, “etailers” might want to pay someone else to operate their online catalogs, shopping carts, and cash registers….

Our repeated and continuing thanks to Robert, Trevor, Chris, and especially Margo, for making that first webcast happen. We have webcast the ceremony every year since. In the early years, our engineers (the aforementioned Robert, Trevor and Chris) had to invent/cobble major parts of the technology. In recent years, webcasting has of course become easier to do.

The 25th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony will be webcast live on Thursday, September 17, 2015. We hope you will watch (tickets to be physically in Sanders Theatre are almost sold out).

Here’s video of that historic 1995 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony (as you’ll see, it’s disjointedly edited):

Here’s our report, in the mini-AIR newsletter that went out shortly after that ceremony:

1995-10-05	Other Ig Nobelliana

1. This year's Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony was, as we had hoped, 
televised live the Internet MBONE facility.  We were pleased to 
hear from people in a number of countries who witnessed the events 
as they folded and unfolded.  The unfortunate part was that the 
ethernet cable into the hall was installed only two days before 
the ceremony, too late for us to get out a special issue of mini-
AIR in time to notify most of you.  Next year, all the technical 
aspects should be in place in plenty of time.

2. The theme of this year's ceremony was "DNA, the stuff of life 
and legend."   DNA was celebrated throughout the evening in a 
variety of ways by everyone from 12-year old Kate Eppers to DNA 
pioneer James Watson to Sally Yeh, president of Bijan Fragrances, 
the creators of DNA Fragrances for Men and Women.

3. If you were at the ceremony, or if you saw it over the 
Internet, you witnessed the work of an extraordinary group of 
people, many from Harvard and MIT, many from elsewhere, who 
labored mightily and mighty lovingly to make this ceremony happen.  
Extremely special thanks to producer igstaordinaire Sip 
Siperstein, literary mathematician Stanley Eigen, stage manager 
Roger Kautz, organigzer igstraordinaire Christopher Thorpe and the 
Harvard Computer Society, Christopher Pimlott and Tangents, 
choreigrapher Nicola Hawkins (and the Nicola Hawkins Dance 
Company), lichtmeister and propologist Eric Workman, 
scientist/supermodel Symmetra (Deb Kreuze), jazz harpist and stage 
presence Deborah Henson-Conant, videontologist Steph Gainer, 
audiogrammatographers Dave Goodman and Jeff Bryant, Joe Wrinn and 
the Harvard News Office staff, Brian Yankee and the Sanders 
Theater staff, the Holyoke Center ticket office, the Harvard 
Parking Office, John Mather and the Harvard Science Center 
magicians, Alan Symonds, Tatiana Divens, Brett Neubig, Frank Wu, 
Focus Magazine, the incomparable and elusive R.T. Morris, Chris 
Small, Jerry Lotto, Trevor Blackwell and Prof. Margo Selzer & 
company, our friend Tom, our radio friends Thomas and Raymond, the 
Nobel and Ig Nobel Laureates and their families, and many other 
people whom -- most unfortunately! -- we do not have room to list 
here.  And let us not forget Lucky the flying dog.

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