Launching the Mathematica Scrapbook
June 24, 2008 — Jean Buck, Director of Content Development, Wolfram|Alpha
(Two posts from me in short succession. Forgive me. I promise that I won’t frequent this forum more than is bearable—hopefully. But I’ve been asked to do a post about the Mathematica scrapbook that we’ve just made public, so here I am again.)
As I said in my last post, June is a special time around Wolfram Research. Given the fact that June 23rd was the 20th anniversary of Mathematica, there’s been more celebration this June than usual.
We started talking about the significance of Mathematica‘s 20th birthday and what we should do in commemoration some time ago. We decided that one thing we would like do would be to create an online scrapbook.
But even though we started thinking about this some time ago, we didn’t do much about it until quite recently.
Luckily, we had established an archive of important company materials early on. We were able to find documents that represented various episodes in our company history fairly easily.
But we wanted to do more than show the passing of time; we wanted to tell a story—the story of how a young Stephen Wolfram had the vision (and gall, in my opinion) to create a company to support the development of a piece of software based solely on functionality he personally needed and thought that other people would find useful too. No market analysis. No venture capital. Just seat-of-the-pants entrepreneurship and pure chutzpah.
We also wanted to show what I think is even more remarkable: the software was designed so well that other people did find it extremely useful; the company has succeeded well; and the product has been able to be extended almost exponentially for twenty years, with no sign of bursting its seams in the foreseeable future. And no signs of losing its place as a visionary leader in the software industry.
I think the scrapbook we created does some of the above, especially when it deals with the pre-history and early years of Mathematica development. Here we were very lucky to have access to the personal papers of Stephen Wolfram. That man is a complete pack rat! But without him having this particular trait, I’m not sure we would be able to come up with some of the items that show what it was like to do computational science in the ’80s and how dramatic a breakthrough Mathematica was back then.
I wish we would have gotten our act together to work on the scrapbook a little earlier on this year. (There just is never enough time for all the projects we have going on here.) I don’t know if we’ve adequately shown the importance of recent developments. Luckily, the scrapbook is a something that we will be able to add to and modify over time. Hopefully we’ll be able to add more of the exciting things that are continually being done to and with Mathematica.
I’ve truly enjoyed working on the scrapbook project and look forward to adding to it over time. If you have any suggestions for additions, we’d be happy to receive them.