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The Friendly Orange Glow: The Untold Story of the Rise of Cyberculture

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4.24  ·  Rating details ·  140 ratings  ·  34 reviews
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 on ...more
Kindle Edition, 598 pages
Published November 14th 2017 by Vintage
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Angie
Nov 15, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Morgane
What a wild ride. While at times it was a bit slow (especially near the end), this book is still phenomenally well-researched and captivating. I knew almost nothing about the PLATO computer, having only even heard about it a month ago-- now I can't believe it's not a canonical part of computer history. If you're at all interested in early computing, cyberculture, the dawn of video games, or just alternative looks at tech history... read this book.
Tony
Nov 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Most people have never heard of PLATO. But they're familiar with all manner of things which were developed on PLATO.

It was, originally, conceived as a way to provide Computer Aided Instruction (CAI). The idea was that, while a human teacher has little time to devote to one-on-one instruction with a student, a computer is infinitely patient. It can wait for several minutes while the student ponders something. As such, what was needed were terminals which could provide useful textual and graphical
...more
John Ohno
Feb 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
A compelling, deep, & eminently readable history of a glaring blindspot in much of popular computer history. PLATO pops up, Forrest Gump-like, in the background of almost every computer history story we know that overlaps with its nearly six decade lifespan -- inspiring the Dynabook, inspiring Lotus Notes, inspiring some of Ted Nelson's thoughts about interactive media in Computer Lib / Dream Machines, and hosting the prototypes for some of the most popular computer games of the 80s and 90s ...more
Jay
Dec 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business, favorites
Five star books get that high ranking from me when they deliver an emotional connection. Sometimes it is because of a topic covered, at times it is the strength of the writing that forges that connection. Here, it is a linkage between a topic of great, career-building interest to me, computer history, with my own history. With an author that can mix these things together, creating interesting and varied stories along the way, you have a great book. I found “The Friendly Orange Glow” to be a grea ...more
Tech Historian
Dec 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a tour de force as it sweeps through 25 years of missing computing history. It adroitly weaves the complex technical, personal and business story of PLATO. It's a compelling narrative, held together by great vignettes of the key players who developed the system, software and applications.

Plato was a mainframe system (originally with custom terminals), built to provide computer-based education, but its authoring system was used to build an entire ecosystem way beyond its designer's o
...more
Sarah Hayes
Apr 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It feels like this took me a million years to read, but I'm glad I stuck with it. Dense with information, it really blew my mind how much PLATO did before anyone else, and the community it built among its users, both in Champaign-Urbana and around the world. I'm probably biased for this since I'm currently a UIUC graduate student and barely a stone's throw away from such monuments to PLATO like the Power House and CSL, but I'd highly recommend this to anyone interested in computing history and t ...more
John Daleske
Nov 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“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
...more
Pete
The Friendly Orange Glow : The Untold Story of the PLATO system and the dawn of cyberculture (2017) by Brian Dear is a fascinating but wildly too long account of the PLATO interactive, networked computer system developed at the University of Illinois.

PLATO was clearly an incredibly advanced system that had high speed interactive graphics and networking. It was started as a system that was intended to greatly enhance teaching by providing individually paced lessons for students. PLATO got many pe
...more
Sandi
Oct 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Thom
Feb 21, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Started this thick volume on April 1, and had to check twice to make sure I wasn't being fooled. This is the story of computing both ahead of it's time and mostly ignored by the mainstream. The information is interesting, if too complete, and the history scattered at times.

The first 200 pages are an excellent history of the PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations) terminal and the principal figures. Just the right amount of technical detail balances with history and even philos
...more
Rich Brown
Jan 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is something.

If computing history isn't your thing, it's not for you, duh. But even if CH _is_ for you, this is still pretty niche-y. It's a very long, very thorough picture of a decades-long project that did _not_ turn into the internet. Clearly a passion project documenting big moments (important meetings to secure federal grants to build the Next Big Thing in Education) and small (interviews with dozens and dozens of students and teachers about every-day (or every-night) activities
...more
(a)lyss(a)
Oct 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
"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
...more
Doug Green
Dec 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
David Steinberger
I had a PLATO terminal in my house in the early 80’s, got hooked on the lessons and multiplayer games, and didn’t see anything like it again until at least the mid 99’s, particularly the games.

I absolutely loved reading the history of the system and the culture of PLATO. Now, when I tell people I experienced instant chat, multiplayer games, MUDs, and BBS-like systems in the early 80’s, and they look at me like I have horns growing out of my head, I can point them to this book. And to cyber1 on
...more
Nada
Sep 15, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: r-pfr
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 http://www.memo
...more
John Sundman
Jan 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Extraordinary. Actually got goosebumps upon reading the final paragraphs. Congratulations to Brian Dear. What an accomplishment. Proper review to follow in a day or two.
Matthew
Oct 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Antonio Stark
A well narrated book about the history of the PLATO system and how it influenced an online community revolution.
Stephen
Jul 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you grew up in Champaign-Urbana Illinois in the 1970s and 80s, or attended the University of Illinois during that period, chances are you were familiar with PLATO. If you didn't, you probably never heard of it. As far back as 4th grade, I can remember my daily PLATO half-hour "shift." The classroom had four PLATO terminals. Each PLATO session contained interactive lessons in all the basic areas, followed by games that were fun but also instructive. Fast forward to my sophomore year at the U o ...more
RavenWorks
Jan 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Absolutely essential reading for anyone with an interest in online/computer culture. An (elsewhere) almost shockingly untold story, exhaustively researched for over 30 years.

The only thing stopping this from being a five-star rating is that this book is, honestly, much too long -- I sympathize with the desire to record as much information as possible, but even as someone with a voracious interest in the subject, it was a little exhausting to get through at times.

But I'm nitpicking, this book is
...more
Tyler Reckart
Jan 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
It's a great dive into an obscure but significant piece of computing history. Before reading I had little knowledge of the PLATO System, but this served as a fantastic history of the project, the community, and the innovations that helped pave the way for many of the technological advancements that we've seen in the last 40 years. The author's writing style very much reminds me of Walter Issacson's work. Specifically The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital ...more
Luke
Sep 05, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, tech
Impressive history mostly comprised of 20 years of personal interviews, the story of early computer-based learning and the oddities of a networked computer culture that reflects so much of later unix/internet/open-source free-for-all learning and hacking environments while being a closed dead-end island in the end.
Dwight
Apr 22, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
A niche history of an early computing system. It is a little long in parts and there seems to be no particular message for the book. Early educational computing and online community in the 60s and 70s.
Uwe Windhoven
Mar 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first 100 pages were a slog, but the payoff was worth it. Very interesting read about tech that was way ahead of its time and is now pretty well unknown.
Ubaid Dhiyan
Nov 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
A rich and largely enjoyable but also unevenly written history of a little known technology ecosystem that originated and thrived in the Midwest from the 60s through the 80s.
Jason
Apr 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had never heard of PLATO which foreshadowed much of contemporary network and social technology in the 1960s-80s. Engrossing and surprising tech history.
David Woolley
Nov 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sweemeng Ng
A history of a computer forgotten by people. Very nice.
Candice
Nov 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"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 ...more
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“Says Ray Ozzie . . . “The system and the activities brought us together, but we maintained the social network in our minds, hearts, souls. Not in a friends list.” 0 likes
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