inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #51 of 134: Ari Davidow (ari) Mon 16 Nov 09 08:34
    
I also wanted to follow up on something that <dshif> posted earlier about 
linear vs. threaded.

In several systems that I have used in recent years, there is a default 
view (for the well, liner views might be preferred; a support forum does 
much better with threaded views) but the forums visitor has a choice of at 
least linear, threaded, outline, or other views.

It sounds like PLATO was more of a WELL-style linear system, but that's 
not something that needs to be hardwired any more - or is there a reason 
your experience indicates that we might want to hardwire a preference in 
this area?
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #52 of 134: Brian Dear (brian) Mon 16 Nov 09 10:08
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permalink #53 of 134: Brian Dear (brian) Mon 16 Nov 09 10:15
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permalink #54 of 134: Brian Dear (brian) Mon 16 Nov 09 10:29
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inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #55 of 134: Ari Davidow (ari) Mon 16 Nov 09 10:54
    
Well, then, let's look at this from another perspective.

What is PLATO's legacy for today? 

I guess this is a two part question--first, talk a bit about PLATO's progeny--
systems that were clearly influenced by PLATO (I think you've already touched 
on some of this). 

Second, if you were designing a new system today, what are some takeaways 
or Design Patterns derived from PLATO that =should= be among the design 
considerations of the new system. I am especially interested in this 
second part because I feel that just as the first generation web tools 
lost much of what was good from terminal-based applications (PLATO, 
included), that knowledge loss is even greater as we move to web 2.0 and 
beyond--having lost, I believe, much of the general understanding of what 
makes forums work (not necessarily a PLATO-driven knowledge area) in favor 
of sharing widgets and friend's status reports.

As I type this, it occurs to me that the diversity of applications that I 
considered lost between, say, the terminal version and web version of the 
WELL is recovered in large part by web 2.0 tools--there is a lot you can 
do on sites such as Flickr or Facebook--they are no longer one-application 
sites. How might that compare with the many ways that an individual could 
use PLATO, as you just described?
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #56 of 134: Brian Dear (brian) Mon 16 Nov 09 11:01
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permalink #57 of 134: Brian Dear (brian) Mon 16 Nov 09 12:35
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permalink #58 of 134: Brian Dear (brian) Mon 16 Nov 09 12:58
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inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #61 of 134: Ari Davidow (ari) Tue 17 Nov 09 05:47
    
I don't want to draw you too far off-track, but tell us more about 
NovaNet. I guess I'm curious both about what defines success--how many 
people are using it in what (types of?) markets, but also, to what 
degree is NovaNet using current technology--it it safe, for instance, to 
say that NovaNet is using web-based teaching, or that language is no 
longer confined to American English via ASCII, as opposed to Unicode?
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #62 of 134: Brian Dear (brian) Tue 17 Nov 09 07:58
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permalink #63 of 134: Brian Dear (brian) Tue 17 Nov 09 08:00
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permalink #64 of 134: Brian Dear (brian) Tue 17 Nov 09 08:09
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inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #65 of 134: Ari Davidow (ari) Tue 17 Nov 09 08:52
    
This is fascinating, but it gives the impression that NovaNET hasn't 
advanced the PLATO ideas--that it is selling the old same thing that was 
developed forty years ago, as last revised, I dunno, thirty years ago?

If that is the case, one has to wonder, in this day of networked 
classrooms, who cares about NovaNET? Why is there still an audience?

I am slowly getting the sense that PLATO existed, that it was a 
fascinating project far ahead of its time, but that it is also something 
of its time--it foreshadows later advances, but doesn't necessarily 
contribute to them, and isn't necessarily connected to anything happening 
today. It's like reading about the library of Alexandria--one is intensely 
curious about what it was like at the time, but the concept of "library" 
had to be rethought and reinvented, later (up to a point).

By way of contrast, I think of PARC where computing as we largely know it 
was invented, even though Xerox didn't benefit much from those inventions.
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #66 of 134: Brian Dear (brian) Tue 17 Nov 09 09:28
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inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #70 of 134: Gail Williams (gail) Tue 17 Nov 09 09:56
    
Xerox PARC famously inspired the Mac down the line...  Maybe PLATO is
the great granddaddy of the ipod.
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #71 of 134: Brian Dear (brian) Tue 17 Nov 09 09:57
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inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #72 of 134: David Woolley (drwool) Tue 17 Nov 09 13:21
    
Wow.  I think Brian Dear has the most encyclopedic knowledge of PLATO
of anyone alive. Those of us who lived the PLATO life back in the 70's
and 80's owe him much gratitude for so persistently and passionately
working to tell the story to the rest of the world.

My first PLATO experience was around 1968, when I was a freshman at
Uni High. The PLATO lab happened to be less than half a block from Uni.
For a few weeks my math class consisted of taking geometry lessons on
the PLATO III system, which predated the version of PLATO Brian has
been talking about. PLATO III supported a single classroom of maybe 30
terminals, each of which consisted of a small Sony black & white TV
screen and a teletype keyboard with round keys. The geometry lessons
would, for example, explain the properties of a trapezoid, and then ask
us to draw one on the screen using arrow keys to move a cursor around
on a grid of dots. Extremely primitive by today's standards. But when
you consider that in 1968 the entire concept of timesharing computers
was brand new, and almost everywhere else in the world computers could
only be used by handing a deck of punched cards to an operator and
waiting to get back a bulky printout full of arcane error codes, it was
way ahead of its time.
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #73 of 134: David Woolley (drwool) Tue 17 Nov 09 13:45
    
I was re-introduced to PLATO three years later by Kim Mast. Kim and I
were in our junior year at Uni. Kim's older brother Phil had a job as a
student programmer on PLATO and had given him the secret of logging
into PLATO III in "author mode". This wasn't high-tech security:  all
you had to do was type "4891" on the "Press Next to begin" screen.
(4891 was, of course, 1984 backwards. I don't know whose idea that was,
but I imagine it was chosen because it was easy to remember.) Anyway,
getting into "author mode" was like breaking out of jail. Instead of
being stuck in some pre-assigned geometry lesson or whatever, you could
roam around online and look at the source code of lessons, and even
write your own.

Kim and I got our hands on a TUTOR manual (the programming language
PLATO lessons were written in) and proceeded to write something we
called "The Uni High Dummy Test" which took you through a series of
idiotic questions and, as best I can recall, pretty much told you that
you were stupid no matter what you did. Good fun. 

The point is, though, that TUTOR was such an easy programming language
to learn that a couple of teenagers with no prior computer experience
at all could read a few pages of the manual and an hour later have a
fully interactive program up and running. And it's not insignificant
that the folks running the PLATO lab were pretty relaxed about letting
kids like me come in and mess around, as long as we didn't cause too
much trouble. (I only crashed the system once or twice, I think -- I
remember once when I'd discovered a way to make one terminal initiate a
keypress on another terminal, after which I couldn't help wondering
what would happen if I connected all the terminals in the classroom
into a keypress loop. The answer is, nothing good!)

When I graduated from high school I immediately got a job as a junior
system programmer at PLATO, which I kept for the next five years. It
was during that period when I wrote some software that was actually
useful, PLATO Notes being the most noteworthy.
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #74 of 134: David Woolley (drwool) Tue 17 Nov 09 13:54
    
I'd like to make a couple of very trivial corrections to Brian's
description of PLATO signons. First, as I recall, PLATO didn't allow
spaces in signon names, so if your signon was a first and last name it
all had to be run together. Earl Truss's signon was actually just
truss/s. I was woolley/p during my years as a junior system programmer
at the U of I. 

Which leads me to my other minor correction, which is that (at least
on the original U of I system) group "p" had exactly the same powers as
group "s". The only distinction was that "s" was reserved for the
senior system staff (in other words, adults) while "p" was for us kids
-- college students, mainly. So while "s" carried a bit more prestige,
in practice anyone with an "s" or "p" signon was considered something
of a demigod -- and either one could royally screw up the system with
ease. 
  
inkwell.vue.369 : Brian Dear, on PLATO, Eventful and further adventures
permalink #75 of 134: David Woolley (drwool) Tue 17 Nov 09 14:31
    
A ways back, Ari asked "Can you speak to that diversity and how it may
have affected how people related to the system? Did the multiplicity
of purposes make the system more sticky?"

Absolutely. 

But when it comes to "stickiness", one thing to keep in mind is that
in the early years of PLATO, there was literally *nothing* else like
it. Yes, there were some other time-sharing systems at other
universities, and a few even sprouted discussion software akin to PLATO
Notes during the mid 70's. But each of these was an island unto
itself. If you were lucky enough to be at the U of Illinois or
someplace else where there was a cluster of PLATO terminals, it was
very probably the only interactive, social, online environment you'd
ever seen or had any chance of getting access to. So the concept of
"stickiness" in the sense that we use today when we talk of a web site
being "sticky" didn't really exist. If the online experience attracted
you, and you happened to have access to PLATO, you were, well, stuck on
it.

But aside from that, it was easier to create interactive software on
PLATO than just about any other computer system of the time. The TUTOR
language made it ridiculously easy to do basic things like put text on
the screen, ask for user input, and respond typed answers or
keypresses. Of course, to write sophisticated games like Empire or
Avatar took considerable skill, but the entry point for beginning
programmers was deliciously simple and immediately rewarding.

The low barriers to entry, plus the exciting social and gaming
environment that began to grow around PLATO, and the possibility of
gaining admiration and prestige in the PLATO community for creating a
popular game, all added up to an environment that sparked many people's
creativity and led to the creation of a plethora of addicting online
games.
  

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