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April 2010 Archives

It's a never-ending job, contacting journalists who publish articles having to do with the origins of online communities, social media, multiplayer games, et cetera, but somebody's gotta do it.

Today's articles come from Don Clark, a Wall Street Journal reporter, who wrote a story about The WELL's twenty-fith anniversary ("Long Before Facebook, There Was The WELL") and a corresponding blog post ("Real Tales from a Virtual Place Called The WELL").

The biggest howler was a quote from Larry Brilliant: "It was clearly the first social network." Larry, let me say that as a WELL user myself since 1986 and a PLATO user since 1979, I must tell you that you're dead wrong. On multiple levels, if we want to get really technical about it. And it's a shame Don didn't catch the error(s) and set the proper context for readers. Instead readers are left with a continuation of the myths about all things Internet post- and pre-.

Have no fear, I've contacted Mr. Clark. Gave him some background, invited him to the PLATO @ 50 Conference. Hope to hear from him soon.

I'll be posting this in a fancier place within the PLATO @ 50 conference page in the next day or so, but in the meantime I wanted to get this information out as many are clamoring for it.

I have booked a block of rooms at the Hotel Zico in Mountain View, a few miles and a short drive from the Computer History Museum, for the week of May 31st. To take advantage of these discounts, be sure to book soon! The rooms will prolly go pretty fast.

If you would like to book a room at this hotel and take advantage of what are pretty good rates considering how expensive Silicon Valley hotels and motels are, follow these steps:

Step 1. Go to

Step 2. In the right-hand column of the home page, note the "rate finder" sidebar. Specify your "Check in" and "Check out" dates, the number of adults, number of children, and click "Go".

Step 3. This will take you to a new page where you will see a form and in the form will be a blank labelled "Corporate/Promotion Code". Enter the word "plato" in the space provided. This gets you the discount. Then click the "Check Availability" button.

Step 4. You're taken to the next step in their registration process, where you can select the type of room you want. You should see a list that has the header "50th Anniv PLATO computer system" and underneath that, choices for "Standard King Room" or "Standard Queen-Queen Room" with "Continue" buttons. Make your choice by clicking the "Continue" button you desire.

Step 5. Fill out all the name, address, and credit card info and then click the "Review Reservation" button at the bottom of the form.

Step 6. Review and confirm the reservation and you should be good to go.

If you have questions or would rather just call the hotel and make the reservation over the phone, call Hotel Zico at 866-920-8790.

Novelist Richard Powers, a professor of English at the University of Illinois, has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Powers, a MacArthur Award winner and winner of the National Book Award for Fiction in 2006, used the PLATO system in the 1970s at the University of Illinois when he was a student there. He told me once that he'd never have become the novelist he did if not for the profound eye-opening experience he had by being exposed to PLATO.

From the University of Illinois news release linked above: "Election to the Academy, based in New York, is considered the highest formal recognition of artistic merit in the U.S. Members are elected to the academy for life, and the roster of past academicians includes literary giants such as John Cheever, Sinclair Lewis, Carl Sandburg, and Edith Wharton. Current members of the academy's department of literature include E.L. Doctorow, John Irving, Joyce Carol Oates, Gore Vidal, and Elie Wiesel."

If you haven't read any of Richard's novels, I would suggest starting with Galatea 2.2 or Plowing the Dark as they both have interesting PLATO DNA in them.

The event's one PLATO history session, featuring Don Bitzer, Lippold Haken, and Peter Braunfeld, starts around then. The embedded video window below should activate around 8:45am Central Time on Thurs, April 15, 2010:

For more info on the conference please see

UPDATE 6/24/2010 --- I've updated the video to be the archived video since this is no longer streaming live obviously :-)

Aaron Woolfson is making great progress with the restoration of PLATO terminals for the conference. He posted some photos yesterday:

Aaron's PLATO Terminal Restorations

At the left is a PLATO IV terminal. Center is a PLATO V terminal. At right is a restored Control Data IST-II terminal. (Click on the links to go directly to Aaron's actual images.) With luck we'll have five, six, maybe seven restored terminals working at the PLATO @ 50 conference on June 2-3. Hope to see you there!

The University of Illinois Archives has this contact sheet in its collection, by some unknown photographer, of an unknown PLATO person using a PLATO IV terminal, probably in the CERL building in the early 1970s.

unknown PLATO user

Anyone, especially former CERL staff, know who this is? If you can help me out, please post a reply below. Thanks!


Learn more about the book:

The Friendly Orange Glow: The Story of the PLATO System and the Dawn of Cyberculture, by Brian Dear

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