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

The Friendly Orange Glow: The Untold Story of the PLATO System and the Dawn of Cyberculture

The remarkable untold story of PLATO, the computer program and platform created in the 1960s, that marked the true beginning of cyberculture--a book that will rewrite the history of computing and the InternetHere is the story of the brilliant, eccentric designers, developers, and denizens (often teenagers and twentysomethings) of the PLATO system, a computer network so far...

Title:The Friendly Orange Glow: The Untold Story of the PLATO System and the Dawn of Cyberculture
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The Friendly Orange Glow: The Untold Story of the PLATO System and the Dawn of Cyberculture Reviews

  • Nada

    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

    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

  • Angie

    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 obs

    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.

  • Matthew

    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 unpeopled 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 i

    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 unpeopled 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.

  • (a)lyss(a)

    "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 firsttoread.com 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 beg

    "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 firsttoread.com 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.

  • Sandra

    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 w

    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 give this book a rating of 3/5 stars.

    I was given this book by Penquin’s First to Read for my honest review. Thank, Penquin Random House!

    * I finally finished the book. It was better than I originally rated it. I know give it a 4/5 stars.

  • Candice

    "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

    "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. I was given a free ARC from Penguin's First to Read program, but my opinions are my own, etc.

  • John Daleske

    “The Friendly Orange Glow” by Brian Dear documents the “Dawn of Cyberculture” with deep, readable details of the personalities, the politics, the culture, and stories of the development of the PLATO system. It reminds me of the quality writing of Tracy Kidder in “The Soul of the Machine” (1981). “The Friendly Orange Glow” strongly deserves the five stars Amazon allows. (Though six would be more accurate.)

    What is PLATO, you ask? The stuffy description would be that it was started in 1960 as a com

    “The Friendly Orange Glow” by Brian Dear documents the “Dawn of Cyberculture” with deep, readable details of the personalities, the politics, the culture, and stories of the development of the PLATO system. It reminds me of the quality writing of Tracy Kidder in “The Soul of the Machine” (1981). “The Friendly Orange Glow” strongly deserves the five stars Amazon allows. (Though six would be more accurate.)

    What is PLATO, you ask? The stuffy description would be that it was started in 1960 as a computer-based education system, a way to improve the learning (training?) of the United States to help keep ahead of the Soviet Union. It starts in the 1950s, touching on the impetus and mindset caused by the Soviet Union launching Sputnik. The Cold War.

    But, the PLATO system evolved to become much more than that. PLATO IV expanded the horizons of being an on-campus system in the 1960s to a far-reaching networked system in the early 1970s. In 1973 and 1974 alone, interactive chat, screen sharing, person notes (email), notesfiles (topic discussion groups), multi-player networked games, animated text graphics (animated emojis), graphic logon pages (Goodle search page), and more all provided a social dimension much broader than just being used for training.

    “The Friendly Orange Glow” (TFOG) details the culture in which this environment thrived; the culture led by Don Bitzer and supported by the creative team at the University of Illinois. This development approach helped support the development of these many capabilities.

    It also highlights stories, as Brian Dear suggests, three books worth of stories, with heart and emotion, the highs and pitfalls of online culture. How careers were made; how careers were lost by the addictive nature that PLATO affected some, many flunking from college or getting divorced because of the interactive networked games or discussion groups.

    In late 1975, an interactive story, Guanogap, was released in installments. It was written as if you were watching over the shoulder of the narrator while he interacts with various characters, reads notes and pnotes (email). You see it happen. It is a snapshot of the culture, of the life on the PLATO system in 1975. I looked forward to every installment. I have yet to see an implementation of an interactive story anywhere on the Internet.

    Wait, you say, weren’t interactive network games first started on the Internet in the 1990s? (Or, if you knew of the Xwindows systems of the 1980s, weren’t they developed there?)

    Wasn’t networked computer-based training (CBT) first done using MOOCs in the 2000s? No. The first time-sharing use of a computer was developed for PLATO in the early 1960s.

    John Brunner published my favorite read, “The Shockwave Rider” in 1975. I re-read it every few years and remain astounded at how forward looking it was, describing a twenty-first century world dominated by computer networks, hackers, cyber crime, and more. I don’t know whether Brunner ever saw or knew about the PLATO system, but the book also describes aspects of what PLATO was at the time in the early 1970s and what it could have become. The Internet has become that network. It first existed on the PLATO network.

    You can still SEE and TOUCH the PLATO system live on the Internet. Find it at cyber1.org. You can still use Notes, talkomatic, term-talk, and play the multitude of interactive games. Every Sunday evening, there is a pickup game in Empire. You might even see me there, though I tend to get killed a lot.

    Guanogap is also there for you to read and experience.

  • David Woolley

    Brian Dear's history of PLATO and the origins of its early online community reads almost like an adventure novel - but it's all true.

  • Doug Green

    Brian Dear has more talent as a writer than I ever imagined. This is a fun read! Thorough, thoughtful, accurate, amazingly well researched, and an entertaining hoot for anyone who lived it! I was one of those annoying young rug rats running around CERL in the early 1970's, playing and writing games and learning about computers. PLATO took me from Illinois to Colorado, California, and Alaska as a programmer before the PC and Web revolutionized everything. If you use Facebook today, you should kno

    Brian Dear has more talent as a writer than I ever imagined. This is a fun read! Thorough, thoughtful, accurate, amazingly well researched, and an entertaining hoot for anyone who lived it! I was one of those annoying young rug rats running around CERL in the early 1970's, playing and writing games and learning about computers. PLATO took me from Illinois to Colorado, California, and Alaska as a programmer before the PC and Web revolutionized everything. If you use Facebook today, you should know about PLATO -- we had it all long before Zuckerwhatsisface learned to breathe! If you think computer games started with Pong, you'd better read this book. If you wonder what people did before email, read this book! And especially, if all you can type with is your thumbs, read this book!

  • Elizabeth

    As heard on the Nature podcast:

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