The remarkable, untold story of PLATO, the computer program and platform created in the 1960s that marked the true beginning of cyberculture - a book that will rewrite the history of computing and the Internet
At a time when Steve Jobs was only a teenager and Mark Zuckerberg wasn't even born, a group of visionary engineers and designers - some of them only high school students - in the late 1960s and 1970s created a computer system called PLATO, which was not only years but light-years ahead in experimenting with how people would learn, engage, communicate, and play through connected computers. Not only did PLATO engineers make significant hardware breakthroughs with plasma displays and touch screens, but PLATO programmers also came up with a long list of software innovations: chat rooms, instant messaging, message boards, screen savers, multiplayer games, online newspapers, interactive fiction, and emoticons. Together, the PLATO community pioneered what we now collectively engage in as cyberculture. They were among the first to identify and also realize the potential and scope of the social interconnectivity of computers, well before the creation of the Internet. PLATO was the foundational model for every online community that was to follow in its footsteps.
The Friendly Orange Glow is the first history to recount in fascinating detail the remarkable accomplishments and the inspiring personal stories of the PLATO community. The addictive nature of PLATO both ruined many a college career and launched path-breaking multimillion-dollar software products. Its development, impact, and eventual disappearance provides an instructive case study of technological innovation and disruption, project management, and missed opportunities. Above all, The Friendly Orange Glow at last reveals new perspectives on the origins of social computing and our Internet-infatuated world.
"Brian Dear has made an important and fascinating contribution to the history of the digital age. This insightful book tells the story of the pioneering system of networked computing known as PLATO. Much of what we enjoy today sprang from PLATO and the colorful community that created and embraced it." (Walter Isaacson, author of The Innovators and Steve Jobs)
"A full decade before the history most people believe, PLATO was the original system that inspired modern computing - and even the cloud. Designed and built by Midwestern pioneers starting in 1960, PLATO was still operational when I attended the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in the early 1990s. In fact, I took math classes on it before building Mosaic. This story is a testament to the importance of both innovation and timing!" (Marc Andreessen, cofounder, Netscape and Andreessen Horowitz)
"I loved this deep unknown history. An incredible tale of a rag-tag team of students inventing key technologies - flat screens, instant messaging, networked games, blogging - decades before Silicon Valley, and then they were totally forgotten. Your mind will be blown." (Kevin Kelly, senior maverick for Wired magazine and author of The Inevitable)
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- Ben WK