The Friendly Orange Glow

The Untold Story of the PLATO System and the Dawn of Cyberculture
Narrated by: George Newbern
Length: 21 hrs and 6 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (71 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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 Internet

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 not only years but 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 the inspiring personal stories of the PLATO community. The addictive nature of PLATO both ruined many a college career and launched path-breaking 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.

©2017 Brian Dear (P)2017 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Brian Dear has made an important and fascinating contribution to the history of the digital age. This insightful book tells the story of the pioneering system of networked computing known as PLATO. Much of what we enjoy today sprang from PLATO and the colorful community that created and embraced it." (Walter Isaacson, author of The Innovators and Steve Jobs)
"A full decade before the history most people believe, PLATO was the original system that inspired modern computing - and even the cloud. Designed and built by Midwestern pioneers starting in 1960, PLATO was still operational when I attended the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in the early 1990s. In fact, I took math classes on it before building Mosaic. This story is a testament to the importance of both innovation and timing!" (Marc Andreessen, cofounder, Netscape and Andreessen Horowitz)
"I loved this deep unknown history. An incredible tale of a rag-tag team of students inventing key technologies - flat screens, instant messaging, networked games, blogging - decades before Silicon Valley, and then they were totally forgotten. Your mind will be blown." (Kevin Kelly, senior maverick for Wired magazine and author of The Inevitable)

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Memory lane for the cyberist.

Great job on giving the personal stories, history and culture of Plato, the foundation of our cyber world. I first touch a Plato terminal as a young USAF computer operations officer in 1976. I worked at DEC, daily using VAX Notes, NCS with NovaNet, Pearson and Plato Learning. Kudos to the author!!!!

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Great listen for those who interacted with Plato

If you could sum up The Friendly Orange Glow in three words, what would they be?

In depth background on the Plato system and how it provided not only an educational teaching system but also a precursor to how networked users would use the system.

What did you like best about this story?

Brought back memories of going to the U of I and taking Plato courses and making the right decision after a couple of extended sessions of Airfight that one could easily get addicted to playing these multi-user games.

What about George Newbern’s performance did you like?

It is a good performance. One nit is that the University of Illinois is known as "U of I" not "UI".

Any additional comments?

There is a twit podcast called triangulation that has an interview with the author, Brian Dear. I'm thankful he wrote this book. I always wondered what the story was behind Plato.

3 people found this helpful

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A Tech History Masterpiece

This book and the audio performance of it were excellent. While the book is quite long, it is engaging. If you enjoy tech history, you will not be disappointed. it was wonderful to hear stories of tech pioneers you've never heard of before, rather than another volume of Who's Who in Silicon Valley.

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Interesting, but repetitive at times

This book originally caught my eye at an airport bookstore with it's friendly orange monospaced title. As an electrical engineer interested in the origins of the technology I work with every day, I found the audiobook interesting. Having grown up in MA near MIT it was refreshing to hear about the "freshwater school" of computing.

My only gripe is that the book could have been condensed. Some anecdotes and events were rehashed throughout. I could see this being helpful if you had long breaks between reading, but since I was listening every day on my commute it just slowed down the listening experience.

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One of the most interesting early computing books

Great book that covers about 50 years of computer history in broad strokes as it related to one unknown project during that time. I never had trouble picking it back up to read and intend to read again soon.

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A very detailed computer assisted education history!

A marvelously well written account of a very early computer assisted education system. Incredibly detailed anecdotes keeps the story fresh and multiple successes and failures make it all still very relevant. A very unique book because of the depth of details from hundreds of individuals!

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  • Ben WK
  • 12-15-17

Outstanding

Engaging, exhaustive and fascinating oral history. PLATO was a groundbreaking yet historiographically neglected online community.