PLATO was a fascinating, pioneering online learning system developed at the University of Illinois.

Alongside course materials, it originated complex multiplayer online games, chat, & collaboration tools, rendered on 512x512 touchscreen plasma displays--in the 1970s.

Brian Dear's "The Friendly Orange Glow" is the (thus far) definitive history of the system, based on decades of research. It took me a while to make my way through the 640 page tome, but here's my review:


I appreciate your covering the exchange between the author and Joy Lisi Rankin. I was looking at some of the things the fediverse's own @nasser had done and stumbled across Rankin's talk that so upset the author (it was the 1st of the session, I never got around to watching rest, my apologies to Ramsey Nasser!).

I think it's worth a watch



I'd seen PLATO mentioned in histories of online communities before (probably in Howard Rheingold's book) but those all seemed like technohagiographies of fusty old systems long gone whose users had all moved on. I was never really so interested in learning more about it until seeing Rankin's talk.

I should know better by now than to be surprised that a talk like that could draw such an awful, professionally costly negative response. I had no idea until your review that it had.



Yes. I don't agree entirely with Rankin's reading of the facts (and in other cases I don't think she's backed up her assertions sufficiently) but Dear's response was, at least in parts, vitriolic, triggering an entirely avoidable downwards spiral. The kind of work Rankin is doing is important to contextualize these historical communities and I hope we'll see more such scholarship.


do you mean in her talk? Or have you read her book, too?

if only the talk, it seems a repeat of one of Dear's errors, going hammer-and-tongs after a work-in-progress presentation.


I have the "People's History" book here as well, and it repeats some of those same assertions (happy to elaborate but not at toot length limits :).

But I certainly agree that Dear's aggressive response crossed several lines, which far overshadowed the substance of his arguments, such as it is.

@eloquence some organizational or technical vestige of this system persisted into the 1990s, when i used it as an alternative to some highschool math classes. it was, by then, quite terrible and i'm not sure the tech had much if any connection to the original system, but i've always been fascinated by the history of it.


Apparently the FAA used it until 2006! Must have been a very strange experience for folks going through those last trainings ..

@eloquence one gets the feeling that online learning has not quite developed according to some exponential Moore's law 😔

what would good like in the age of the #fediverse and digital abundance?


I don't know, but I think wikis are the best platform we have for collaborating on learning resources today. I'd love to see better tools to do the equivalent of TUTOR programming in a wiki -- and ways to embed interactive lessons in toots and other ActivityPub items :)

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