I can exclusively reveal that Lotus Notes, which today discovered a renewed destiny with the launch of Lotus Live (release, TechMeme), may have a legitimate claim to being the very first SaaS application of all.
Shortly after I founded the ASPnews.com website in September 1998, I was contacted by Jim Lidestri, then CEO of a hosting company called Interliant, which had specialized in Notes hosting since its foundation in 1992. At the time, Interliant was keen to establish its credentials as a leading infrastructure provider to the then burgeoning application service provider (ASP) space. So I was commissioned to write a white paper, which was published in September 1999.
A section in the paper details Interliant's history. It records that, although the company did not adopt the Interliant name until 1997, it had pioneered multi-tenant hosting on the Notes platform as early as 1994:
"In 1993, Interliant began developing a Notes system that would act as a messaging gateway, hosting infrastructure and online community for Notes users and developers.
"In January 1994, the system went live with almost 80 separate companies, all using the same shared Notes server — the first such deployment of Notes."
Which just goes to show that, in this funny old SaaS business, what goes around, comes around.