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Nathaniel (nsb)
Borenstein, Ph.D.


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I'm a scientist/programmer/inventor/entrepreneur who has been involved in Internet-related innovations since 1980, specializing in e-mail technology, human-computer interaction, and electronic commerce. Journalists have called me an "Internet Guru" and "a geek's geek," among other things. I have largely focused, in my career, on taking new innovations and driving them, collaboratively, to become successful products.

I specialize in building consensus in diverse groups, and I enjoy translating between different perspectives, particularly between software development and business strategy.

Since June 2010 I have been working as Chief Scientist for Mimecast. In the fall of 2021 I reduced my role at Mimecast to half-time, and have returned to the faculty of the School of Information at the University of Michigan.

I live in Guppy Lake, in northern Michigan and Ann Arbor.

Things I'm Known For

  • My standards work. Among other things, I'm co-creator of MIME, the Internet standard multimedia data format, now used trillions of times each day. My old barbershop quartet is featured in what is sometimes called the first MIME message. Nowadays I'm interested in standardizing dynamic messaging.

  • My entrepreneurial ventures. I co-founded First Virtual Holdings, the first Internet payment company, in 1994, which became MessageMedia and was ultimately swallowed up by Doubleclick when the Internet bubble burst, NetPOS.com, the first Internet-centric point-of-sale system, in 2000, and AmplifEye in 2014. Although people often assume I founded the company because of its name, I actually didn't join Mimecast until it was several years old.

  • My software projects (notably metamail, Safe-Tcl, and the Andrew Message System), which have been used by millions.

    My 1991 Girl Scout cookie message, an early demonstration of "dynamic email"

    An early overview video of the Andrew System, from the late 1980's

  • My writings, which include three books, and numerous journal articles and 16 Internet RFC documents. I also blog occasionally.

    A Spy In the House of War: My Life as a NATO Collaborator , my 1989 essay that won the NYU Olive Branch award for writing about peace

    Programming As If People Mattered, my 1991 book about designing software for usability, now notable primarily for the incredibly dated examples

  • My 21 patents

  • My social activism.
  • Things I Hope to Be Known For Some Day

    Immodestly, I think some of the most important things I've done are less well known. A few of my sins of pride:

  • In 1992, I applied for a patent on what is now known as "dynamic email". Bellcore, my employer, decided not to pursue the application because it was deemed to be of little commercial potential, and thus not worth the bother to differentiate from two pieces of prior art (John Vittal and John Hogg). That was a smart commercial decision, because the patent would have expired in 2012, six years before Google launched AMP for Email, the first thing that could have seriously infringed on it. As of 2021, dynamic email is widely seen as the "next big thing" in the email world.

  • In 2013, I applied for a patent on "Sharing Artifacts in Permission-Protected Archives." This time my employer, Mimecast, persisted, and US patent #11,163,898 was issued on November 2, 2021. I believe some day organizations will be made much more efficient by methods like these, but I rather doubt that I will live to see it happen.

  • My forthcoming book on how the Internet affects the human spiritual journey. The most recent draft was titled "Virtual Values: The Internet Challenge to the Human Spirit" but that will likely change.

  • My amazing children and grandchildren.
  • More than You Need To Know

    For over 40 years, I've been collecting my favorite quotations. You can sample one here (reload to sample another) or see them all here, here, and here.

    My wife Trina and I are empty nesters; our two living daughters, foster daughter, four granddaughters, and grandson live in New York City, Chicago, and northern California. I have three brothers:

  • Eliot is a hoity toity academic at NYU
  • Seth is an AP journalist periodically attacked by nut jobs.
  • Joe is a contractor/investor in California.
  • My Meyers-Briggs type is very strongly ENFP:

    I am a lifelong sufferer of depressive disorder, but it has been well controlled by medication for decades. I urge anyone who is battling depression to seek help. The right treatment can not only save your life, it can make life better than you can probably imagine.

    Like most of us, I too rarely reflect on how lucky I am in general, and in particular to have had so many remarkable people in my life. Here are a few of the ones I miss most.

    Shana Borenstein, 1982-2020

    Michael Grover, 1982-2021

    Stan Borenstein, 1925-2006

    Debbie Borenstein, 1929-1996

    Sophie Borenstein, 1906-1998