It was 30 years ago this week when MITRE made its mark on the Internet as the very first organization to register the .org domain name.
MITRE grew out of the computer laboratories of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where scientists developed the first large-scale digital computer called Whirlwind I. The U.S. Air Force commissioned this system to develop a continental air-defense system called Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) project. MITRE was chartered as an independent not-for-profit company in 1958 and began to apply the technology to other challenges of national importance starting with traffic management working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Over the past several decades, MITRE has earned a reputation for leading the way in technical excellence for government, military and civil agencies, with a focus on “advancing science and technology in the Public Interest.”
As far as getting on the Internet goes, MITRE’s data and network technology centers had a vested interest back in the ‘80s in connecting to one another for production and network technology development purposes. As it turns out, MITRE’s current CIO was an employee during the time when the organization actually made the decision to register their .org domain name, and he and his team sent out an internal newsletter article to company team to let staff know why their email addresses would soon be changing. Cool, huh?
“We were a different kind of entity, and there was this feeling that .ORG was a safe place where we could share important information about the work we were doing. That feeling still exists today, and that in it of itself is important.” – Joel Jacobs, CIO of The MITRE Corporation
To MITRE, working in the “public interest” refers to working towards the missions associated with their sponsors (e.g. security, safety, and health), and having an independent view as opposed to taking on that of one’s shareholders.
Jacobs said, “I think that .ORG has worked out well for us because it has become synonymous with the focus on public interest, not solely on being a not-for-profit organization…Our website is very much a vital part of how we project ourselves to the world.”
So, what happened to Whirlwind I, you ask? According to Jacobs, parts the computer found their way to the Smithsonian Institution and the Computer History Museum. Others still reside in the MIT Museum for viewing. Now you know.
From all of us at PIR, happy 30th birthday to you, MITRE! #HappyBirthdayORG!