The success of Notes led to overcrowding. There were only two
notesfiles which users could write in, and they were used for
practically everything. It became a chore to wade through the
volume of notes written every day, and people began to ask for a
way to filter out notes they weren't interested in.
My solution was this: the system staff would define a list of
categories, such as "bug reports", "suggestions", "events",
"jokes", etc. Anyone writing a note would assign it to one of
these categories. Users could select which categories they
wanted to see when reading notes, and their selections would be
stored permanently as part of their user records.
In early 1975 I created a version of Notes that supported
categories, and released it to a limited group of users for
testing and comments.
Suggestions from users were vital to PLATO's evolution, and Notes
was no exception. Since I had written Notes originally, it was
my turf, and I made most of the decisions about what features
were implemented. But I had the benefit of lots of ideas from
users as well as from the rest of the system staff. Often a
suggestion would strike me immediately as great idea, and if it
was not too difficult, it might be implemented and released
within a day or two. Not all ideas were implemented, by any
means. But sometimes I would argue against a proposed change,
only to be convinced of its merit by cogent arguments or by the
sheer number of people voicing support for it. Thus, Notes was
shaped largely by a consensus of the entire PLATO community.
The notes categories concept was well received at first, but it
got bogged down in controversy over features and never made it to
general release. A particularly contentious issue was how notes
should be presented. One faction wanted to see all notes in
chronological order, with the categories serving only as a filter
to skip unwanted notes. Others wanted categories to serve an
organizing function, as well: all the notes from one category
would be shown, then all the notes from the next category, and so
Strange as it seems now, I held out against organizing notes by
category. I was used to reading notes about many different
subjects all jumbled together, and just wanted to be able to see
all the new notes listed together in one place. But support for
more organization grew, and I began to see that I was in a losing
In the meantime, though, other problems became apparent. First, I
realized that as the volume of notes increased, there would be
technical problems with keeping everything in one large file.
Second, it wasn't clear how many categories would be needed. I
had designed in a limit of 60, which seemed like a vast increase
over the 3 we had been living with. But if we ever needed more
it would be very difficult to increase the limit. After months
of wrangling, my concept of notes categories seemed fatally
flawed. I really didn't know where to go with it.
About this time, a few people began to ask for private
notesfiles. We had all seen how useful Notes was for discussing
development of PLATO itself. Couldn't the concept be extended to
allow any small group of people working on a project to
communicate among themselves? In fact, a group in Chicago that
was using PLATO to develop medical courseware wrote a clone of
Notes for their own use.
Suddenly the future clicked into focus. I abandoned the
categories project and began to implement Group Notes.
Copyright © 1994 by David R. Woolley
Copyright (c) 1996 - 2006 Elizabeth Mattijsen
I appreciate comments, suggestions and bug-reports.
Please send these to firstname.lastname@example.org.