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Nathaniel (nsb) Borenstein Click here for my email address


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 like to help build consensus in diverse groups, and to facilitate communication across different perspectives, such as software development and business strategy.

I am currently serving on 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. I've also worked on other aspects of email standards, and on standards for calendaring, document formats, instant messaging, and a few other things. Nowadays I'm not active in standards work but still potentially interested, particularly 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. (But NOT Mimecast, however. 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 28 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 still sometimes seen as the "next big thing" in the email world, but I increasingly suspect it won't become common until made more necessary by speed of light delays in interplanetary communication.

  • 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. This invention could allow organizations to be much more efficient by mining their email archives for redundancies and opportunities for internal collaboration. However, whoever actually tries to do this first will require significant resources and determination to work through all the legalities and the privacy details, so 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 is titled "Digital Integrity: Living Humanely in an Artificial World" but that could still 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 remaining descendants live in Chicago, New York City, and northern California. Two of my brothers and two of my daughters have public personas:

  • Eliot is Vice Chancellor of NYU
  • Seth is Senior Science Reporter for the Associated Press (AP), and is periodically attacked by nut jobs.
  • Miriam is a historian, writer, and comic afficionado.
  • Lea is a writer and author
  • My Meyers-Briggs type is very strongly ENFP:

    I was a lifelong sufferer of depressive disorder, but it had been well controlled by medication for decades before my amazing life transformation in 2021 somehow made them unnecessary. 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