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Mae Be So

[whitespace] Bill Lee
Christopher Gardner

Internet's brave new future: getting real

By Todd S. Inoue

Bill Lee is married to his job; he's got a bed in his office to prove it. That doesn't mean business is unsexy. For the past five years, Lee has helped make Supernews one of the top three bandwidth clients in the Silicon Valley. On a daily basis, 60 percent of the world's Internet traffic flows through the building it inhabits, home of the Internet hub Mae West. Now that's sexy.

Back in 1995, Lee and his Cal buddy/partner, Craig Wallace, saw the potential of Usenet newsgroups, and Supernews has become the premier Internet news supplier in North America. Its Internet connectivity includes nine T3 lines (45 MB/s per line), four OC3 lines (155 MB/s), and three OC12 lines (600 MB/s). Every day, Supernews processes more than 28 million news articles and email messages, and exports nearly a full terabyte of information to customers worldwide. (A terabyte is 1,000 gigabytes.)

There's a dorm quality to the Supernews office, located in the gold towers on Market Street at San Fernando. Collegiate creature comforts adorn the space: a pool table, some frumpy couches, a Sony Playstation, a framed picture of Beavis as Cornholio, beers in the fridge, a putting green and a basketball court on the way. The average age of the Supernews staff hovers at about 26.

Name: Bill Lee
Age: 27
City of Origin: San Rafael, Calif., via Pittsburgh, Pa.
How Long Here? 2 years
Hobbies and Interests: Basketball, work. "I don't get out much. It's almost always spontaneous."

Lee talks about the future of the Internet like a soothsayer. In 1998, he says, users are going to want a smarter Web surfer because the novelty of being hooked up is wearing off. "The glitz and glamour is gone," Lee says. "You can see that because Netscape's price is falling. I think people are going to want real bang for their buck. It's no longer going to be 'I've got $28 million; I'm going to throw $100,000 into the ad budget.' It's going to be 'What are we really getting from the Internet?' "

Supernews anticipates that by 1998, the company will be the largest Internet bandwidth user in the world. To accommodate, Supernews plans to make its interfaces more useful and faster.

Though Lee graduated with a business degree from UC-Berkeley and got his J.D./M.B.A. from UCLA, he gets philosophical. "Last year--1997--was the gold rush days of the Internet. Everyone was throwing their stake in the field like a lightning rod. Concepts like that are gone--1998 is going to bring smarter consumers, smarter investors, smarter venture capitalists. Everyone is going to expect more. I think everyone's going to wonder what everyone's doing on the Internet."


The New Silicon Valley:

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It's all about speed.

The next generation of movers and shakers.

Silicon Valley through the decades.


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From the January 15-21, 1998 issue of Metro.

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