Husky pioneers the Internet Hampden business creates Web sites

October 08, 1995|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

For National Public Radio, Penguin Books, CBS, Coca-Cola Co. and other technologically savvy companies, the road to the Internet runs through low-tech Hampden.

That's because it's here, in an airy loft in the old town hall of his working-class neighborhood of north Baltimore, that David Levine runs Husky Labs, one of the first companies to jump into the infant industry of creating World Wide Web sites for corporate clients.

In just two years, Husky Labs has built a reputation as one of the most graphically sophisticated and technologically advanced companies in the Web site business. Not content to just post colorful billboards on the Internet, Husky has taken a lead in developing Web sites that deliver sound and video and secure business transactions.

The past week has represented a public stepping-out for Husky Labs and Mr. Levine, a 29-year-old former rock musician whose technological credentials consist of a philosophy degree from Yale.

Husky and its collaborators have been sharing cutting-edge technology with the world as they cover Pope John Paul II's visit to the United States with live audio and video, including today's Mass at Camden Yards, over the World Wide Web segment of the Internet.

And last week Husky and a team of corporate partners gave what the Greater Baltimore Committee billed as the first-ever live demonstration of a full-motion video transmission over the Internet at the GBC's annual TechMonth dinner.

Mr. Levine became ensnared in the Web three years ago as an editor at the World Bank in Washington. As he recalls, the bank was trying to get a Web site on line but was having trouble with its server, a high-capacity computer for handling Web traffic. Mr. Levine, in the right place at the right time, was asked to help.

Mr. Levine said he eventually got the bank on line through "trial and error," but in the process he came to appreciate the potential of the World Wide Web.

"I knew it would be absolutely enormous, and I decided to go out and get my own clients," he said.

His first private client was the Holocaust Museum in Washington, for which he designed a "virtual museum" on the Web.

Six months after founding Husky Labs, Mr. Levine moved it to Baltimore to be closer to his then-fiancee's workplace. Monica Larson Levine has since joined Husky full time as vice president and chief graphical designer for the company, which is named after their half-Siberian husky, half-Labrador retriever Suttree.

Husky Labs' early projects received strong reviews, bringing a stream of corporate clients to the Levines' unlikely location.

The National Journal and American Political Network chose Husky to put their interactive Politics USA service on the Web. Pentagon Records in Los Angeles hired it to create a Web site through which customers can hear sound bites and place orders. And NPR chose Husky to create a site that lets listeners who missed a news story or commentator hear it later through the Web.

Richard Dean, who worked on setting up the NPR Web site when he was with the network, said Husky brought a rare combination of graphical and technical skills to the project.

"They're great," said Mr. Dean, now a senior analyst with Strategic Interactive Group in Boston. "The thing I love about Husky is that David is a real visionary type. He understands not only where the Internet is but where the Internet is going."

Julie Hanson, vice president for electronic publishing at Penguin Books, said that since building the publisher's Web site, Mr. Levine continues to push Penguin in the direction of new technologies.

"He's constantly on the fringe of the Web, and he reports back on what's happening," Ms. Hanson said.

What's happening now at Husky is definitely on the outer fringe of Web development.

For CBS, Husky is working on a system that will deliver live radio through a Web site -- a project that allowed him to listen to WBAL-AM's broadcast of Cal Ripken Jr.'s streak-breaking game through his laptop computer while he was in New Orleans.

The site Husky is developing for Coca-Cola poses other challenges. Separate from Coke's public Web page, this site will be used to conduct transactions with bottlers, ad agencies and suppliers -- an application that will require state-of-the-art encryption and firewall programs to ensure security.

Another Husky client is The Sun, for which it is helping to design a Web page for an eventual on-line information service. Other local clients include the Afro-American Newspapers and Ellicott International. The Web sites of Husky clients can be reached through its own home page, http://www.butterfly.net.

Mr. Levine said all these projects are being carried out with a staff of eight full-timers, four of whom work in remote locations and telecommute. The office, up four flights of stairs, is staffed by a crew of bright Generation X-ers who shun all vestiges of workplace formality. The long-haired Mr. Levine, who still looks more like a rocker than a company president, keeps suits and ties in a closet by his desk in case he has to meet clients.

Those meetings are occurring more often these days because )) business has tripled since last year, Mr. Levine said. And even though he has yet to draft a formal business plan, Husky is already turning a profit, he said.

"I'm only just starting to think of this as a business," Mr. Levine said. "Up until now I've kind of thought about it like my band -- as a way to travel and meet girls."

The Levines won't say how much revenue is coming in, although they say they have landed contracts worth up to $500,000.

"We're happy as clams," Mr. Levine said.

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