He's led some of the most visionary projects in the development of the Internet, but he's rarely strayed from the business world. Paul Mockapetris helped pioneer the Internet DNS and shepherded some of the most significant work on the advancement of the Net through organizations such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). But he's also kept his head firmly in the workday world, as a co-founder of Internet access service @Home Network, which later merged with Excite Inc.
Recently Mockapetris joined Urban Media, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup that is giving commercial tenants in office buildings free broadband access to entice them to sign up for other paid services.
Sean Doherty, CEO of Urban Media, who also helped start @Home, said Mockapetris has an uncommon combination of talents.
"He's a guy who sees through the clutter and has a very coherent vision of what's going to occur down the road," says Doherty. "A lot of the Internet geniuses' visions are so far ahead that you can't use them. Paul is a practical genius."
Mockapetris says that he merely looks for answers to questions. "What you have to do is work on something where the answer really matters," he says. "I've always been more of an engineer than a scientist."
As a member of the Information Sciences Institute at University of Southern California in the early 1980s, Mockapetris found himself asked to work on what became the DNS, the system that translates a Web or e-mail address into the numbers that are used to route packets through the Internet. All it took was common sense, he says.
"One day I had a bunch of stuff dropped on my desk -- proposals to build a domain name system," Mockapetris says. "I was supposed to work on a common proposal. The pieces were there."
Mockapetris says the key was to create a system accessible enough that it could be commonly used. "We ended up with a simple process," he says.
That simplicity is inherent in the idea for Urban Media, he says. "We are trying to bring traditional telephone service and Internet services together. If you move into an office in an Urban Media building, we'll deliver the services so you can start doing your business instead of worrying about overhead functions."
The company delivers free basic broadband services and charges for VPNs, managed e-mail, videoconferencing, and other related services, he says.
Mockapetris believes that in 10 years broadband will become so pervasive that buildings without comprehensive communications will be ignored by successful businesses.
"Companies not using the Internet will be like people bringing a knife to a gunfight," he says.
Internet use will grow to become an ubiquitous presence in the social and business world, he adds.
It's a good bet that Mockapetris will contribute more to that evolution, given his philosophy.
"I like to make practical things that work," Mockapetris says. "I can't build things that don't work."
Current position: CTO, Urban Media
Technology prediction: Ubiquitous terminal devices enabling the user to access personalized information