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March 2011 Archives

Today the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued a patent to Google for its Google Doodles feature, wherein the company's home page logo is customized on certain holidays or days to commemorate a certain person, place, or thing.

Problem is, this is not Sergey Brin's or Google's invention. It is PLATO's. (And who knows, there might have been prior art even before the early to mid 1970s when the practice was commonplace on PLATO's "welcome page.")

Consider that Sergey Brin was born on August 21, 1973. Thanksgiving day that year fell on November 22, 1973. On that day, the PLATO welcome page looked like this:

PLATO Welcome Page on Thanksgiving Day, 1973 showing a turkey instead of the clock

Sergey Brin, inventor of the customized welcome to celebrate a holiday, was just 93 days old. I know he was brilliant, but I didn't think he was that brilliant. I also didn't know he had an author signon on the CERL PLATO system. The things one learns...

Here is another example I have blogged about in the past: Valentine's Day, 1975.

Now, a persnickety IP lawyer might say, but look, what Google is claiming is a customized logo not a customized clock. On PLATO welcome pages, when a special day arrived, the clock was customized, not the logo. To which i would say, you're being persnickety and that is not the point. The general idea is identical. Top of fold, most prominent thing on the introductory page of a computer service gets customized for special occasions to attract user attention and have a little fun in the process. End of story.

Here's an example of a Google Doogle celebrating Thanksgiving 2010:.

Google's patented reinvention of PLATO's innovation from the 1970s
Google's 2010 Thanksgiving welcome page. 37 years after PLATO.

(Thanks to a tip from "theodp", whose actual name I have never known in all the years he or she has been emailing me.)

It was fifty years ago today that a then 27-year-old electrical engineering PhD whiz kid named Don Bitzer, along with mathematician colleague Peter Braunfeld, demonstrated the PLATO II system to the assembled dignitaries, including David Dodds Henry, the President of the University of Illinois. The event was called the "President's Faculty Conference on Improving Our Educational Aims in the Sixties" and was attended by over 100 faculty members and assorted guests.

It's a significant date because it was a very early public demonstration not only of computer-based education, but also of time-sharing and remote access of a computer system. The demo was held at the Allerton House, 30 miles to the west of the University of Illinois' ILLIAC computer at the Coordinated Sciences Laboratory.

Here's a photo from March 10th, showing Don seated on the floor, talking on the phone, trying to get things to work between Allerton and the PLATO lab back at the university:

Donald Bitzer preparing for PLATO II demo held on March 11, 1961

Note the keyboard on the chair on the left. It has about 16 keys. Home-made. Built-from scratch. And the "monitor" on the chair on the right is, you guessed right, a cheap black-and-white TV.

The demo was a big success and helped propel the PLATO project forward. Within two years would arrive PLATO III, running on a more powerful CDC 1604 computer. PLATO II was a proof of concept that PLATO could run with simultaneous users, in this case two, but the idea was "N", as in, if you can run two users, it might as well be N users, with N limited merely by memory, CPU, and other resources.

 

Learn more about the upcoming book:

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

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