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Going Way Back with MATLAB Central 4

Posted by Ned Gulley,

You’re part of a long tradition.

Communities don’t blossom in one night. MATLAB’s rich community has been growing steadily for many years, and today I want to give you an idea of just how long. I bet it’s longer than you think!

I’m talking about history here because we want to celebrate the fact that MATLAB Central is 15 years old. That’s pretty old in web years. In 2001 there was no iPhone, no YouTube, no Facebook. Wikipedia launched that same year. But old as it is, MATLAB Central was just giving a modern web-based home to a community that was already thriving.

Let’s rewind the clock even further. The original FORTRAN version of MATLAB goes back to a class Cleve Moler taught at Stanford in 1979. MathWorks incorporated as a company in 1984, by which time the commercial version of MATLAB had been re-written in C. So the company was already nine years old when, in 1993, we launched three “electronic services for MATLAB/Simulink users.” These were the anonymous FTP site where people could share files, the comp.soft-sys.matlab newsgroup where people could chat and ask questions, and the MathWorks Digest email newsletter.


And because the web never forgets anything, we can still find Volume 1, Number 1 of the MathWorks Digest. First published in August 1993, it features an introduction by Cleve Moler. I notice some of the pixels are yellowing with age, but other than that, it’s holding up pretty well.


Think about it: in 1993, email was still kind of a big deal. Nobody knew about the web back then because… there was no web. Or rather, it was in such an embryonic stage that only Sir Tim and Marc Andreesen knew about it (the first popular web-browser, NCSA Mosaic, launched in April 1993). As the web grew, the folks at NCSA maintained a “What’s New” list for cool new websites. That is, the web was so small that one site could claim to tell you about everything new. MathWorks had one of the first corporate websites, and we were able to make the NCSA list in February of 1994. I remember this because I was the guy who sent them the link.



And because the web never forgets anything, you can still see it: What’s New! February 1994. Look for us under February 5th.

It’s no surprise that most of the links on this ancient page don’t work anymore. But the MathWorks links still work. Click on the MATLAB gallery link and it takes you to… (wait for it) the File Exchange! Those roots go back as far as the web goes.

I’m sharing this ancient history mostly to emphasize that the community site we launched in 2001 was actually built on the foundations of a robust community that was already two decades old. We took all the files from the old FTP site and moved them over to a web-based service we called the File Exchange. And we built a web front-end for the MATLAB newsgroup and called it the Newsreader. These two applications, the File Exchange and the Newsreader (along with a programming contest), were together called MATLAB Central. The web version of our MATLAB community was born.

[Thanks to former MathWorker Drea Thomas for helping me recall some of this ancient history.]


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4 CommentsOldest to Newest

David Barry replied on : 1 of 4

It’s interesting to go back but it’s more fun to go forward. What do we have to look forward to in a future File Exchange? How about supporting multiple versions of uploaded content and then being able to pick the version we want? Maybe we could even get notified when updates are available right from within MATLAB, using something like the Add-On Explorer? Another idea is to try and manage dependencies between content e.g. if I download thingA but it relies on thingB and I don’t have thingB installed then I just want to get thingB automatically when I get thingA.

Ned Gulley replied on : 2 of 4

Good ideas! Thanks for the comment. You can definitely anticipate more Add-Ons integration. And keep in mind that for certain kinds of advanced maneuvers, it may be best to host your file on GitHub and provide a link through from File Exchange. Our GitHub integration gives you the distribution boost of being in a MATLAB community while taking advantage of all the advanced features of git.