inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #0 of 134: Gail Williams (gail) Thu 5 Nov 09 12:32
    
Brian Dear steps into the spotlight at Inkwell to talk about his
adventures with people who built a community using one of the
prototypes for all social computing, PLATO, plus his fascinating
collaborations that have followed that experience!  Leading the
conversation is Ari Davidow, one of the community-building pioneers at
The WELL as well as on sites he has created.  

Brian and Ari, welcome!  Please say a little more about yourselves as
we get going, since my introduction lacks some of the juicy details. 
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #1 of 134: Ari Davidow (ari) Sun 8 Nov 09 14:38
    <scribbled by ari Sun 8 Nov 09 14:43>
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #2 of 134: Ari Davidow (ari) Sun 8 Nov 09 14:43
    
My name is Ari Davidow. I am currently the Director of Online 
Strategy at the Jewish Women's Archive (http://jwa.org). I became 
involved with the WELL a bit over 20 years ago, having gotten my 
first taste of the potential of online community with 
microcomputer-based BBS's. I tend to think that this makes me a 
long-time veteran of the online world. Hah.
 
My guest will be Brian Dear, whose experience with online 
community dwarfs my own alleged longevity. That matters because 
this interview is a bit different from the usual inkwell.vue  
feature. Instead of discussing a book just released, we will be 
discussing a book in the process of being written.
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #3 of 134: Ari Davidow (ari) Sun 8 Nov 09 14:44
    
Brian Dear is founder and chairman of Eventful, Inc., which he 
founded in 2004.  Eventful is the world's largest search engine 
for events, and also offers the Eventful Demand service where fans 
can "demand" that an event happen in their town.  Prior to 
Eventful, he founded eBay Design Labs, the team responsible for 
user experience design for eBay's website. Other previous gigs 
include various management roles at Eazel, MP3.com, FlatWorks, 
RealNetworks, and Coconut Computing.

After dabbling in BASIC on a Wang 2200A personal computer in high 
school, Brian got his real start on computers in 1979 at the 
Univerity of Delaware where he was first exposed to the PLATO 
system.  He got a programming job on PLATO and wound up working on 
PLATO for 5 years, after which he joined Hazeltine Corp in 1984 to 
work on designing multimedia authoring systems.

Since 1985 as a hobby he began collecting the oral history of the 
original creators of the PLATO system.  Over the past 25 years 
that has grown into a major research project to document PLATO's 
history.  In 2010, which is the 50th Anniversary of PLATO, he 
expects to have the book finally published (http://www.platopeople.com/).  
He is also organizing a conference to celebrate all things PLATO at 
the Computer History Museum on June 2-3,2010.
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #4 of 134: Ari Davidow (ari) Sun 8 Nov 09 14:46
    
Brian, all I know of the PLATO system is what I have read on your 
website, or on David Wooley's website. Why don't we start with 
some history? What was the PLATO system? Why did it matter? Tell 
us a bit of the story to get us started.
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #5 of 134: Brian Dear (brian) Sun 8 Nov 09 22:44
    <scribbled by brian Wed 20 Mar 13 18:16>
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #6 of 134: Gail Williams (gail) Tue 10 Nov 09 07:03
    
Wow.  When you say bigger than ARPANET (the precursor to the Internet)
approximately how man people are you talking about?
 
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #7 of 134: Brian Dear (brian) Tue 10 Nov 09 11:18
    <scribbled by brian Wed 20 Mar 13 18:16>
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #8 of 134: Gail (gail) Tue 10 Nov 09 12:56
    
This is indeed like a buried history.  Were there contemporary
articles or books about PLATO that hinted at the educational and
community uses during the early days?  If it's like a lot of things
from the 70s and 80s, I'm wondering if there may be published accounts
that have never made it to the online world!
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #9 of 134: Brian Dear (brian) Tue 10 Nov 09 15:13
    <scribbled by brian Wed 20 Mar 13 18:16>
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #10 of 134: Brian Dear (brian) Tue 10 Nov 09 15:31
    <scribbled by brian Wed 20 Mar 13 18:16>
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #11 of 134: Brian Dear (brian) Tue 10 Nov 09 15:36
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inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #12 of 134: Brian Dear (brian) Tue 10 Nov 09 17:19
    <scribbled by brian Wed 20 Mar 13 18:16>
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #13 of 134: Gail (gail) Tue 10 Nov 09 17:37
    
That is simply amazing.  

(That accidental secret society aspect is mighty familiar, too.  Even
years later, when I got involved as a customer on The WELL in 1990, it
was awfully hard to tell outsiders why it was so captivating.  I told
my grandmother, who was an outdoorsy old time Californian who didn't
use computers, that it was like being around a campfire with many
interesting people, some of whom you knew and others who dropped in,
and everybody took turns talking, but she was rather dubious about that
metaphor!  Describing what a modem was turned out to be pretty
useless, too.) 

I can imagine futility of describing PLATO as a juicy, evolving
computer-mediated culture ten years earlier!

I'm curious about the cultural evolution, but first, were there any
general learnings from all the experience with using PLATO for
education that have made their way into contemporary "distance
learning" and all our modern adaptations?
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #14 of 134: Brian Dear (brian) Tue 10 Nov 09 23:05
    <scribbled by brian Wed 20 Mar 13 18:16>
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #15 of 134: Gail (gail) Wed 11 Nov 09 10:49
    
Lag time is so dispiriting.  All of the potential sense of being in a
place reverts back to a feeling of hurling an object over a large chasm
and waiting to hear if it clunks at the bottom or reaches the other
side. 

Do you have any idea who has the rights to the lost courseware?  I
wonder if that is a lost treasure trove somebody might renew and adapt
to other platforms. 
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #16 of 134: Brian Dear (brian) Wed 11 Nov 09 16:36
    <scribbled by brian Wed 20 Mar 13 18:16>
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #17 of 134: Gail (gail) Wed 11 Nov 09 16:54
    
Hmm, what an interesting licensing choice.  Better than nothing.

Most of the folks here at The WELL are probably most intrigued hearing
about the forum-like notesfiles, and how people built a community
there.  In your research for the book, have you discovered any7
consensus on a tipping point into an unmistakable community, that
interaction or personality or event that made it clear something
remarkable was happening?

(Welcome to all who are now reading along without logging in.  You're
invited to join us if you like, or you may simply email a question or
comment for Brian Dear, for posting here.  Send it to inkwell@well.com
-- please include "PLATO" in the subject line.)
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #18 of 134: Brian Dear (brian) Wed 11 Nov 09 17:27
    <scribbled by brian Wed 20 Mar 13 18:16>
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #19 of 134: Brian Dear (brian) Wed 11 Nov 09 17:40
    <scribbled by brian Wed 20 Mar 13 18:16>
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #20 of 134: Gail Williams (gail) Wed 11 Nov 09 19:18
    
Exactly.  So who was there?  Kids, professors, grad students?
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #21 of 134: Brian Dear (brian) Wed 11 Nov 09 19:30
    <scribbled by brian Wed 20 Mar 13 18:16>
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #22 of 134: Michael D. Sullivan (avogadro) Wed 11 Nov 09 19:55
    
I lived half a block from Antioch Law School in D.C. in the late
1970s, and I wandered in one day and saw this orange plasma screen with
a sign saying PLATO.  Somehow I managed to read some of the help files
and ended up playing a massively multiplayer space game.  That was my
only exposure to PLATO, but it clearly showed where computers were
headed.
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #23 of 134: Brian Dear (brian) Wed 11 Nov 09 20:26
    <scribbled by brian Wed 20 Mar 13 18:16>
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #24 of 134: David Brake (derb) Thu 12 Nov 09 03:07
    
Could you say a little more about the funding of PLATO? It sounds as
if the system would have been hugely expensive per student/user. Any
idea of the costs in 1960s-1970s $? Who funded it and championed it and
under what circumstances did the money eventually disappear?

Also, would it be at all possible to run PLATO and some of the apps in
emulation on computers today and thereby at least give people a
glimpse of what it looked like then? Is anyone working on that? Is the
source code available?
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #25 of 134: Brian Dear (brian) Thu 12 Nov 09 06:08
    <scribbled by brian Wed 20 Mar 13 18:16>
  

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