I read an interview with Dropbox founder Drew Houston that ran in MIT Tech Review in early 2012. Really interesting story, well worth a read, especially for this bit about where the idea for Dropbox came from.
“For me, it goes all the way back to MIT, where there is a campus network called Athena. You can sit down at any of thousands of workstations and your whole environment follows you around: not just your files but where your icons were on your desktop. Then I left and discovered that no one had really built that for the rest of the world.”
I thought — how interesting, the idea for a hugely important, transformative technology came from using the campus network as a student at MIT.
Then I remembered where Zuck was when Facebook was being hatched. In case you’re not familiar with the legend, it was down the street in Cambridge at Harvard. His co-founders were also Harvard undergrads.
In my own case, the idea for outlining came in a hallway conversation with a fellow grad student at the University of Wisconsin. He told me about editors for Lisp systems that understood structure. From there it was a few steps to editable structures for non-programmers.
Universities, for people who really use them, can be incredible places to make connections between people and ideas.