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Nathaniel (nsb) Borenstein My email address


I'm a scientist/programmer/inventor/entrepreneur/author/activist 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 have also been preoccupied since childhood with trying to understand the religions of the world. My forthcoming book explores how information technology affects the human spiritual quest. Stay tuned!

I am currently serving on the faculty of the School of Information at the University of Michigan. I live in remote northern Michigan.

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MIME and My Standards Work

I am the 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.

A MIME-themed puzzle from the MIT Mystery Hunt Puzzle 2012

My entrepreneurial ventures

I co-founded four companies, including
  • First Virtual Holdings, the first Internet payment company, in 1994
  • NetPOS.com, the first Internet-centric point-of-sale system, in 2000
  • ColorPhi, which digitally extends human vision, in 2014.
  • (But NOT Mimecast, however. I didn't join Mimecast until it was several years old.)

    My software projects

    I wrote a lot of software in the 80's and 90's, notably metamail, Safe-Tcl, and the Andrew Message System), which have been used by millions.

    At left is a late 80's overview of the Andrew Message System.
            (A video about Andrew as a whole is here.)

    At right you can see and hear my 1991 Girl Scout cookie message, a pre-standards demonstration of "dynamic" or "active" multimedia email.





    My Writings

    I've written three books, 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 29 patents

    My Life in Large Organizations

    For 8 years I was a Distinguished Engineer for IBM, where I ran the research and standards programs for the Lotus division.

    For 12 years I was Chief Scientist for Mimecast, during which time it grew from 100 employees to a public company of 2000 before going private again. I created and ran Mimecast's patent program, and was involved in research and other functions as well.

    I also taught at University of Michigan, Grinnell College, and Carnegie-Mellon University. I have a special relationship with Grinnell.


    My Volunteer Work


    Things I Hope to Be Known For Some Day

    Immodestly, I think some of the coolest 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. Amusingly, although Bellcore did not follow through on patenting the original invention, in 2024 I received US patent #12,001,544 on countermeasures to protect against malicious uses of dynamic messaging technology!

  • 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

    My Meyers-Briggs type is very strongly ENFP:

    A ridiculous online site declared me the 19,008th most influential human being of all time!

    I have battled depressive disorder and won! Please seek help if you need it!

    I've been collecting quotations for decades, sample one here (reload to sample another)

    Here are my own pithiest quotes in circulation.

    My Family

    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 a Senior AP Science Reporter, and is periodically attacked by nut jobs.
  • Miriam is a historian, writer, and comic afficionado.
  • Lea is a writer and author
  • 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

    Michael Grover

    Stan Borenstein

    Debbie Borenstein

    Sophie Borenstein