Monday, November 27, 2006

The passing of a seminal innovator

Almost unnoticed in the post-Thanksgiving news was the death of Donald Wilson.

Who? you're asking. I did as well. But Mr. Wilson pioneered a tool that virtually everyone who has internet access uses every day--the online searchable database. As an executive for Arthur D. Little in the 1960's, Wilson helped the Mead Corporation create a product that eventually became Lexis-Nexis--an invaluable reference for lawyers, judges and legal scholars worldwide.

Mr. Wilson wrote the initial business plan for the project, and thought highly enough of it that he left A.D. Little to become president of the new venture, named Mead Data Central.

The early versions of this product would seem quaint to us today--text only, using private networks connected by slow phone lines--but successor products like Edgar and Wikipedia, never mind online archives of newspapers and magazines, help hundreds of millions of people find what they're looking for.

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