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May 2010 Archives

Since last November if not before then, I've been contacting people at Google regarding the idea of doing something like the following to celebrate the 50th anniversary of PLATO:

Google Doodle mockup for PLATO@50

Would be hugely attention-grabbing, tens if not hundreds of millions would see it, and think of the good karma for Google to recognize the huge set of innovations that came decades before Larry and Sergey founded the company.

Month after month of trying different approaches to reach out to Google with the idea resulted in silence. Some Googlers suggested I write directly to Marissa Mayer, which I did last week. Heard back from her late last night (for many months I'd proposed that Google do the Doodle this week, not next, since it'd help boost awareness of next week's free conference at the Computer History Museum). She indicated this was the first she'd heard of it, but assumed it was now too late. So this morning I replied back to her and others at Google that, no, it's not too late at all -- any day between now and June 3 would be fine. No reply yet. Crossing fingers.

Google, if you're reading this, go for it. It would be completely awesome and in the long run you will see the wisdom in having acknowledged the PLATO team's work and rightful place in the pantheon of computer wizards that preceded Google and all the web companies in Silicon Valley.

In 1973, the year social computing began on PLATO, the PLATO system got the perfect storm of apps that would forever change the use of the system: PLATO Notes (message forums), Talk-o-matic (chat rooms), and TERM-talk (instant messaging).

What were some of today's tech luminaries doing in 1973? Let's have a look:

Claim to Fame Name Age in 1973 What They Were Doing
Apple Steve Jobs 18 Dropped out of freshman year at Reed College in Oregon; stuck around for a while auditing classes in calligraphy. Later returns to Silicon Valley, winds up working at Atari.
Apple Steve Wozniak 22 Joined Hewlett-Packard; began "Dial-a-Joke" hotline out of his home.
Twitter Evan Williams 1 In diapers, on a farm in Clarks, Nebraska.
Facebook Mark Zuckerberg -- Would not be born for another 11 years.
Amazon Jeff Bezos 9 Attending River Oaks Elementary School in Houston, TX.
DELL Michael Dell 8 Attending Herod Elementary School in Houston, TX.
AOL Steve Case 15 Student at Punahou School in Honolulu, HI.
Google Larry Page Infant In diapers, being raised in East Lansing, MI.
Google Sergey Brin Infant In diapers, being raised in Moscow, USSR.
Google Eric Schmidt 18 Attending Princeton University.
Google Marissa Mayer --- Wouldn't be born for another two years.
Wikipedia Jimmy Wales 7 Attending tiny one-room schoolhouse in Huntsville, AL.
The Web Tim Berners-Lee 18 Graduated from Emanuel School and entered Oxford University.
Oracle Larry Ellison 29 Working at Amdahl Corporation.
Netscape Mark Andreessen 2 Two year old in Cedar Falls, IA; family would move to New Lisbon, WI.
craigslist Craig Newmark 21 Student at Case Western Reserve University
eBay Pierre Omidyar 6 Moved from native Paris, France to Potomac, MD; attended Potomac School.
eBay Meg Whitman 17 Attending Cold Spring Harbor High School, Cold Spring Harbor, NY
Yahoo Jerry Yang 5 Bouncy five-year-old growing up in Taipei, Taiwan.
Yahoo David Filo 7 Attending school in Lake Charles, LA
YouTube Chad Hurley --- Would not be born for another three years.
YouTube Steve Chen --- Would not be born for another five years.
FourSquare Dennis Crowley --- Would not be born for another fourteen years.
LinkedIn Reid Hoffman 6 Six-year-old kid growing up in Berkeley, CA.
Linux Linus Torvalds 3 Toddler growing up in Helsinki, Finland.
Digg Kevin Rose --- Would not be born for another four years.
ChatRoulette Andrey Ternovskiy --- Would not be born for another twenty years.
Microsoft Bill Gates 18 Graduated from Lakeside High School in Seattle, WA; worked as congressional page at the U.S. House of Representatives; enrolled in Harvard University in the fall.
Microsoft Steve Ballmer 17 Graduated from Detroit Country Day School in Beverly Hills, MI; enrolled in Harvard University.
Lotus Notes, Groove, Microsoft Ray Ozzie 18 Graduated from Maine South High School in Park Ridge, IL; enrolled in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Started using PLATO the following year.

At the conference next week, Ray Ozzie will be on hand among many other PLATO folks to share their insights and experiences. Two other notable speakers are Dave Woolley, who wrote PLATO Notes when he was 17, and Kim Mast, who wrote Personal Notes (PLATO's email system) in early 1974 when he was 18. Doug Brown, author of Talk-o-matic, will be attending the conference. Among the panel sessions is one devoted to the topic of the emergence of online community -- and essentially the birth of social media -- on PLATO in 1973-74. Not to miss.


This went out on the wires today:

Computer History Museum to Host "PLATO@50" Conference
Two-Day Free Conference Commemorates PLATO's Amazing Legacy and Wide Influence; Features PLATO Creator and Plasma Display Co-Inventor Don Bitzer; Microsoft's Ray Ozzie; Brian Dear of PLATO History Foundation

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA--(May 20, 2010) - The Computer History Museum (CHM) announced today that it will host the PLATO@50 Conference June 2-3, 2010, celebrating the 50th Anniversary of PLATO, a large-scale computer system for which numerous popular technologies were invented, including gas-plasma flat-panel displays and interactive touch screens, as well as many software innovations. A co-production of the PLATO History Foundation (PHF) and CHM, the event will assemble in one place many of the key people involved with the creation of PLATO, for the first-ever public conference celebrating its history and accomplishments.

PLATO's list of innovations and seminal influences is considerable. Stemming from the University of Illinois in the 1960s and later marketed by Control Data Corporation, PLATO stands for "Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations." Designed as a large-scale system to teach students nationwide, with more than 10,000 hours of courseware in subjects ranging from elementary math to air traffic control, the federally-funded system quickly became much more -- a virtual microcosm of today's online world, with a thriving online community predating today's social media by decades.

"PLATO@50 is another example of the Museum doing something only we would undertake -- celebrating and paying tribute to a groundbreaking system whose innovations live on today," says John Hollar, President & Chief Executive Officer, CHM. "It's one of the great, unsung stories in computing over the last half century, and we're proud to stage this event on site and online."

The PLATO@50 conference features a significant lineup of speakers, including Donald Bitzer, creator of PLATO and co-inventor of the flat-panel gas plasma display; Ray Ozzie, Chief Software Architect of Microsoft (and a systems programmer on PLATO in the 1970's at the University of Illinois); Brian Dear, founder of the PLATO History Foundation and author of the upcoming book on PLATO, The Friendly Orange Glow; Phil McKinney, Vice President and CTO of HP's Personal Systems Group; moderators Steve Gillmor of "Gillmor Gang," Charlene Li of Altimeter Group, and many others.

"Those of us who were fortunate enough to have been early users of the PLATO system got a sneak peak at what one day the internet would become," said Ozzie. "Don Bitzer believed that computers could have a far broader impact than just simply computing; that in fact they could transform how we learn. But beyond education, the unbounded creativity of its emergent online community caused PLATO's impact to be far broader than any of us could have ever imagined."

"A convincing case can be made that PLATO was the birthplace of social computing," said Dear. "The list of parallels is long and impressive: multi-user chat rooms, instant messaging, the first online newspaper, group message forums, email, a thriving developer community, and addictive multi-player games."

On Wednesday, June 2 at 7 p.m., CHM Presents "PLATO@50- Seeing the Future Through the Past." The evening program will begin with a PLATO overview presented by Dear. Then John Markoff of The New York Times will moderate a panel featuring Bitzer and Ozzie.

Daytime panels on Thursday, June 3 will discuss the culture of innovation fostered by Bitzer, PLATO hardware and software, online education, online multiplayer games, and PLATO's online community. For more information and event descriptions, visit

Support for PLATO@50
Major funding for PLATO@50 is provided by Microsoft Corporation. The Conference Sponsor is PLATO Learning, Inc.

About the PLATO History Foundation
Founded by Brian Dear, who worked on PLATO systems at the University of Delaware, University of Maryland, and Control Data Corporation, the PLATO History Foundation's focus is to advance the public awareness of the history, significance, and importance of the PLATO computer system and its online community, and to tell the story of the people who designed, built, and used the system. The PLATO@50 conference is one outcome of this effort. For more information, visit and follow @platohistory on Twitter. Information about Dear's upcoming book on the history of PLATO can be found at

Computer History Museum Events
All events are free of charge and will be held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. To register, visit For more event information and updates from the Computer History Museum, become a fan on Facebook and follow @computerhistory on Twitter.

About the Computer History Museum
The Computer History Museum (CHM) in Mountain View, Calif. is a nonprofit organization with a four-decade history. The Museum is dedicated to the preservation and celebration of computer history, and is home to the largest international collection of computing artifacts in the world, encompassing computer hardware, software, documentation, ephemera, photographs and moving images.

CHM brings computer history to life through an acclaimed speaker series, dynamic website, onsite tours, as well as physical and online exhibits. Current exhibits include, Charles Babbage's Difference Engine No. 2, Mastering the Game: A History of Computer Chess, and Innovation in the Valley -- A Look at Silicon Valley Startups. The online exhibit, featuring the Timeline of Computer History and over 600 key objects from Visible Storage, is found at:

Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing will open physically and online in January 2011. It will include the first permanent exhibit chronicling the origins of the Web and the Internet.

For more information, visit or call (650) 810-1059.

PLATO® is a registered trademark of PLATO Learning, Inc.

Media Contact:
Amy Jackson
Eastwick Communications
(415) 609-2435

With apologies to The Matrix:

the orange pill

"This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill - the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the orange pill - you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes."

Thanks to Aaron Woolfson's dedication, incredible effort, and dogged determination, attendees of the free PLATO @ 50 conference on June 2-3 will have hands-on access to fully-restored and operational PLATO terminals. They just arrived yesterday!

PLATO terminals arrive at CHM

One neat little detail about these terminals is they all have one little enhancement that didn't exist when they were originally manufactured: Aaron has added an Ethernet port to each. So they can simply be plugged into the Internet and connect to and you instantly see "Press NEXT to begin" on the screen. Amazing.

PLATO V terminal

These terminals arrived at the Computer History Museum yesterday, artifact donations and hopefully in time part of its permanent exhibit. For me, the arrival of these terminals marks a huge milestone for the Museum, as I've been gently pushing the Museum for years to embrace the significance and historical importance of PLATO and one major way I've always hoped that would come about was for the Museum to accept PLATO artifacts into their collection. And we've reached that day. (I love the fact that these terminals are in crates that say "Property of The Computer History Museum".) Another massive milestone of course is the conference itself: it's just enormously exciting that the Museum has further embraced PLATO by supporting and co-producing the upcoming two-day conference. Hope to see you at the conference!


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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Copyright ©2009-2010 PLATO History Foundation. PLATO® is a registered trademark of PLATO Learning, Inc.