“Your thinking about how this is all going to turn out is correct but it’s still yet to happen.”
—Alan Kay in conversation with Engelbart
The “Engelbart Diaspora” is the relationship of Engelbart’s ARC lab to the community of technology developers that created computer tools over the last 40 years.
The term “diaspora” is a Greek term meaning the scattering of seeds. The July, 2006 the Wiktionary defines diaspora as: “A dispersion of a group of people from their native land, commonly used in reference to the Jews.” The study of diasporas examines how the ideas and tradition traveled with a group of people as they migrate. They influence those around them and in turn are influenced by their new environment.
People who worked with Engelbart carried their experience with them as they moved into leadership positions across Silicon Valley. Like a potent bushel of seeds, Engelbart’s ideas were planted and cross-pollinated across the high tech industry to create new products and methodologies stemming from Engelbart’s seminal work and approach to development.
The team from the Augmentation Research Center went on to influence their colleagues at other companies. The mass exodus from Engelbart’s lab to Xerox PARC (13 key team members) and then the adoption of many of the PARC features in the Apple Macintosh lead some historians to inaccurately credit PARC and Apple for many of Engelbart’s innovations such as the mouse and the Graphical User Interface (GUI). Several people who worked at PARC went on to become major industry players, founding companies (including Adobe Systems and 3Com) or joining companies such as Apple and Sun Microsystems.
Bob Metcalfe, founder of 3COM, wrote in a 1997 Wired Magazine article, The Visionary Thing, “Hey, it’s not easy being a proto-prophet…Engelbart got left behind because he embodied his visions in the time-shared computers of his day and missed the detour we all took into stand-alone personal computers. With the emergence of the Web, though, he’ll be back.”
At Engelbart’s 80th birthday in 2005, people who worked in Engelbart’s lab in the 1960s and 1970s gathered at SRI with those who were carrying his vision forward. Bill Daul, who worked with Engelbart in the 1970s remarked,
“Doug had such an incredible vision and every one who worked with Doug was touched by his vision.”11
11Bill Daul heads the NextNow Network, a global social network of people who are interested in Engelbart’s vision.