The Friendly Orange Glow by Brian Dear

The Friendly Orange Glow

Brian Dear

Fascinating, first hand, and revelatory, The Friendly Orange Glow makes clear that the work of PLATO practitioners has profoundly shaped the computer industry from its inception to our very moment.

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At a time when Steve Jobs was only a teenager and Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t even born, a group of visionary engineers and designers—some of them only high school students—in the late 1960s and 1970s created a computer system called PLATO, which was light-years ahead in experimenting with how people would learn, engage, communicate, and play through connected computers. Not only did PLATO engineers make significant hardware breakthroughs with plasma displays and touch screens but PLATO programmers also came up with a long list of software innovations: chat rooms, instant messaging, message boards, screen savers, multiplayer games, online newspapers, interactive fiction, and emoticons. Together, the PLATO community pioneered what we now collectively engage in as cyberculture. They were among the first to identify and also realize the potential and scope of the social interconnectivity of computers, well before the creation of the internet. PLATO was the foundational model for every online community that was to follow in its footsteps. 

The Friendly Orange Glow is the first history to recount in fascinating detail the remarkable accomplishments and inspiring personal stories of the PLATO community. The addictive nature of PLATO both ruined many a college career and launched pathbreaking multimillion-dollar software products. Its development, impact, and eventual disappearance provides an instructive case study of technological innovation and disruption, project management, and missed opportunities. Above all, The Friendly Orange Glow at last reveals new perspectives on the origins of social computing and our internet-infatuated world.

Advance Galley Reviews

The Friendly Orange Glow by Brian Dear is an endeavor to preserve a history that is at risk of being lost. The research put into compiling the history of the PLATO computer system is clear in the length and depth of the details and the extensive list of sources and notes. The personal interest and viewpoint of the author is clear from beginning to end. The book is lengthy and dense but nevertheless a fascinating story of a time, a place, and a community. Read my complete review at Reviewed for Penguin First to Read.

I must admit that came into this book a little wary. I could tell from the introduction that Brian Dear has a chip on his shoulder about UIUC and the midwest in general being underappreciated for their technical advancements, and it's a major complaint you'll hear anytime you get a tour of the engineering or related departments at UI. I was a little afraid of getting into this too-long opus of passion, a work of years that would be a little like getting cornered at the party by the guy who's obsessed with gaming and wants to tell you the keyboard shortcuts he's discovered. And I wasn't all that wrong. But despite the chip on the shoulder and the obsession, the core of this book was pretty endearing (not an author pun) and entertaining. The heart of the book is a charming tale of hackers and gamers coming together on an early network, a testimony to the recognizable but remarkably early evolution of a connected community. Dear was a member of this community himself and is an unabashed fanboy. There are significant weaknesses. The opening section on the origin of Plato is a bit precious, by an author that is a little too amazed by his subject and is trying a little too hard to impress us. But it is explained clearly, which is a plus. The closing 100 pages or so have to explain why Plato has been forgotten, how it was mishandled and petered out, and he's a little bitter. It was a bit rough getting through those sections and each could have been written with greater brevity. But the middle section, describing the culture and evolution of Plato, is a fun and informing read. And the author certainly did his homework. Lots and lots of homework, and perhaps too much of it got into the book, but I definitely learned something worth knowing. That the 'where are they now..' section at the end was super interesting, tracing the tradition of Plato into other technologies of the 1990s. I got a copy to review from First to Read.

"The Friendly Orange Glow" by Brian Dear was a fascinating tech history by a master storyteller. I knew nothing about PLATO when starting the book, as most of the events and innovation took place before I was born, but now feel as if the technology, along with people and places that built and 'hacked' and enriched the community surrounding it, are my old friends and familiar haunts. Some readers may be put off by the long-windedness of some of the personal stories and anecdotes, but I found that they added a surprising richness and cohesiveness to the book and a offered a delightful buildup to some mind-blowing revelations of this lost technological history.

Unfortunately my copy of the book expired before I could get a chance to read it. Hope to pick it up when it is published and see what I missed.

As a recent computer science graduate, I was excited to read about the history of PLATO. I found the book as a whole enjoyable; however, I do feel it went on a bit long, a consequence of some repetition through the book.

The Friendly Orange Glow by Brian Dear was an absolutely fascinating read. I knew nothing of the PLATO System when I started this book-- and how interesting to learn that connecting via computers has been around for far longer than most people realize.

The Friendly Orange Glow by Brian Dear. My father was a computer programmer and his first use of the computer systems was PLATO and NovaNET as part of his training to work with different platforms and be able to solve other people’s porblems. I was blessed to have one of the first in-home computer units as a young child because of his job (we were the envy of the neighborhood, no one had ever seen these monstrosities before! I was really excited to read this book, because of our family history with computers and networking. Sadly, I was unable to finish the book., The only reason I was unable to finish this book was in the middle of the book there was too much weaving in and out of the timelines and many repeats of history, which made me want to throw the modern day representation of those huge computers of learning—my iPad at the wall. It was too much repeating for me and I lost patience. Thanks for the opportunity to read the portion of the book I did read. We all owe B.F. Skinner for the wonder we have In our lives for computer use while learning even in lieu of the education systems till not grasping the proper use of his vision. My early love of gaming started young, I appreciate the opportunity to feel a connection to some of the history in the book. While as a college student, I used numerous Pearson programs. I appreciate Mr. Dear for taking upon himself the challenge of learning about PLATO and telling the PLATO story so we can all learn about an integral component in our lives and show us the past where computing has been in existence for much longer than most people ever knew. I was given this book by Penquin’s First to Read for my honest review. Thank, Penquin Random House!

I received an early copy of this book from Penguin's First to Read program. As a someone with a saltwater view (I didn't realize there were freshwater views, I figured it was an unpeople land of quiet groves of trees and fields of corn and little else), I was pleased to read about something I knew very little about. This was a fascinating history of an impressive feat in the early days of modern computing. Dear does a great job setting the scene and revealing some of the personalities involved in the development of the PLATO system at the University of Illinois. It's fascinating to see so many parallels between the efforts to create a teaching machine and some of the stuff going on in education with computers today. It just goes to show how far we've come (the availability of cheap internet access and access to computing power) and how we still make the same mistakes (the author muses, "[s]chools continue to spend billions on computers, software, and network, but the question remains who is benefiting more, students or vendors."). In the early part of the book and development of PLATO it hit me how many of the things we did in the 80s and early 90s, interactive fiction through MUDs and tools like Eastgate's StorySpace, while they felt like brand new inventions then, had been around for ages at that stage, pioneering all sorts of new interactions we take for granted now. Dear tells the story really well, though I felt the slightest touch of seasickness in the middle of the book as we seemed to wash back and forth over some of the same time periods as he had to backtrack to walk through the timeline of another thread in the story of PLATO. But the evolution of PLATO from a government-funded, academic-hosted project to adapt to various computing trends and eventually fizzle out with the closure of NovaNET (owned by Pearson, taking the story of computers in education from near the start with B.F. Skinner to a modern day education company) kept the story interesting all along. If you're interested in the history of computing, computers in education, and the beginnings of networked culture this is an excellent story.

"Every manager at any level had to go through a minimum of forty hours per year of PLATO lessons. In Silicon Valley, this practice is affectionately called "eating your own dog food" and was generally considered a good thing." I received a copy of this ebook from in exchange for an honest review. This is a surprisingly dense book on the history of PLATO and personal computers. This book talks about the history of computer terminals, the rise of email, and how gaming addictions began decades ago. There is also a lot of background on the personal histories of the team involved with PLATO and anecdotes about how decisions were made. We see how PLATO was used for games, meeting people, and even as a way for suicidal individuals to reach out. There's also an interesting history of how PLATO gained ground internationally, which I would have liked to hear more about. The book closes with some history about how PLATO lead into modern computers with companies like Mac. I think the change from the super expensive terminals to personal computers is the most interesting part and I would have liked to hear more about that. But overall I learned some new things from the book about how people were connecting via computers long before the internet.


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